- Hazard earned bronze medal and adidas Silver Ball winner at Russia 2018
- Nominated for The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2018 award
- Five factors behind his evolution on the pitch
Talent can shine through at any age, and where Eden Hazard is concerned it wasted little time before blossoming. First capped by Belgium at 17 and voted the best player in Ligue 1 with Lille while still only 20, the former prodigy has continued to soar ever higher since his dazzling early days.
Famed for his dribbling skills, creative vision and lung-busting runs, Hazard has added a decisive edge to his list of attributes in recent seasons. That all-round ability made the Belgium ace one of the most eagerly anticipated performers at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, and he did not disappoint.
The Red Devils' captain helped his side clinch a historic third-place finish in Russia, where he also picked up a trio of Budweiser Man of the Match awards. Ten days later, he was nominated as a candidate for The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2018.
Before the three finalists are selected by fans, journalists and national team captains and coaches, FIFA.com explores five of Hazard's most essential qualities. Will they be enough to earn him the trophy next month?
Playing for pleasure
A player's ability to enjoy the game is a key factor in how they perform. That is no easy feat when the stakes are high and expectations even higher, but Hazard has always found joy on the pitch. After a childhood spent perfecting dribbles in his garden, he can still put the pressures of top-level football out of his mind and focus on having fun with the ball, no matter which heavyweight team he is up against.
Identified as a rough diamond while still only 14, Hazard has shown a remarkable capacity to analyse his performances and improve. His rare dips in form are quickly followed by stunning returns to his best, suggesting that his nonchalant air masks a fierce process of self-criticism. As he himself explained after failing to live up to his potential at Brazil 2014, "I think I could have done a lot better in terms of the quality of my play." Four years later, he thrilled crowds in Russia by displaying the full range of his abilities, ending the tournament with the adidas Silver Ball.
The 27-year-old has never been one to hold forth on the pitch. When describing Eden's style of captaincy, his younger brother Thorgan once put it: "He prefers to let his feet do the talking and leave the big speeches to others." Hazard has always been more comfortable leading by example, but he has flourished in the dressing room since being given the Belgium armband. The results have earned widespread praise, not least from coach Roberto Martinez: "He's been a real captain, a leader and someone who is always himself."
Effective, well-timed dribbles
While he may not command the biggest bag of tricks, Hazard has mastered his signature moves. The mazy run that leads nowhere is not in his repertoire. Instead, he has perfected the effective dribble, with one of his favourite ploys being the body feint that flummoxes defenders without the need to touch the ball – and he has a knack for choosing the right moment, an instinct shared by all the greats. Hazard's ability to accelerate and slow down to match the speed of his marker before another burst of pace has left more than one defender in his wake this year.
Maturity and responsibility
Despite his casual demeanour, Hazard is fully aware of people's expectations and the responsibility that comes with that, as he made clear ahead of Russia 2018: "This is where we'll see if I'm a great player and if I can answer the call when needed." While his quality has never been in doubt, Hazard is now turning heads with his maturity – and it could launch him into a new dimension when The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2018 final three is announced on 3 September.