BY ANDREW BOULTON
As Dr. Dre will tell you, it’s never particularly nice to be forgotten about. And it’s easy to imagine that the song the good doctor wrote on the subject is played on a despondent loop in Eden Hazard’s undoubtedly massive car.
This season, Chelsea’s tiny Belgian truffle has been outstanding. And not outstanding in the way that Jamie Redknapp thinks everything from Angel Di Maria jogging to his own thumb is outstanding. Actually, properly outstanding.
Admittedly to anyone with at least one partly functioning eye this is no more revelatory than the fact that Jeremy Clarkson is a not a man you would ever want to dine with. But, rather oddly, Hazard is not receiving the wild, frothing plaudits usually reserved for such efforts.
The immediate explanation for this is that the game now exists in two divergent universes. The one in which football is played, and the one in which Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo play it.
Their relentless brilliance has shaped attitudes in fans who are no more than three tweets away from some startling new perspective on their achievements. But this is, after all, the FIFA generation (the game not the institutional farce). The hyper-immersive nature of gaming has generated a new sense of pseudo-parity between a footballer and a gamer. We have effectively placed the capacity for genius under the thumbs of every teenage boy and then wonder why real-life greatness seems so languid. It’s a severe new world in which being entertained is a distant and disappointing second to being astonished.
And it’s through this impossible new prism that Eden Hazard’s own remarkable talents are now viewed. He has ten league goals this season. Messi has 30.
But, counter-intuitive as it may seem to a football fan, comparison is the enemy of reality. Hazard’s performances this season should be championed as loudly and as frequently as if Messi and Ronaldo worked in Argos, making sure customers have enough tiny blue pens.
Stats are the weapon with which this state of Messi-Ronaldo hegemony is perpetuated. But that same weapon should also be persuading us to save some astonishment for our own league’s outstanding footballer. The stats show that Hazard completes more dribbles per game than any other player in the Premier League. In the Champions League, a competition he shares with Messi and Ronaldo, he tops that particular table too.
But again, in the light of this aggressive duopoly, stats that illuminate anything other than the dizzying ‘pass the parcel’ of records between Messi and Ronaldo seem to melt into the ether. Even Hazard’s match winning performances – that we’re finally seeing with greater regularity – are consumed less eagerly than the latest looping 6 seconds of magic from Spain.
This is not to say that Messi and Ronaldo deserve anything less than our perpetual astonishment. It just seems so wasteful to readjust our appreciation of excellence simply because it shares a platform with perfection.
Hazard’s brilliance, for which he is sure to earn personal accolades before the season is out, is also curiously celebrated less than the Premier League’s more corporeal talent pool. Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, at various times, all seem to have gathered greater media praise for their performances this season – as were Luis Suarez and Yaya Toure last season.
It’s almost as if Hazard being the creative force behind the best team in the country is something we are simply entitled to. Perhaps it is, in a rather sad way, a compliment to have your own intense talent treated as unsurprising. Perhaps not.
Maybe Hazard, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea fans don’t give a hoot about the airiness with which his talent is regarded. It just seems peculiar that a league yearning so enviously for a ‘worldy’ aren’t looking more closely at the one we’ve almost got.