The Ballon D’or announcement is due today, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Manuel Neuer in contention for the most prestigious individual award in world football.
Ronaldo and Messi’s inclusions was a given (and shall continue to be until one of them retire), meaning that third spot has taken added importance. Before the two became shoe ins for the title, being first was the real prize, whereas over the past few years being named in the final three becomes almost a victory in itself, as two other places are sewn up.
Since 2007, Ronaldo and Messi have been in the top three (excluding 2010, where Ronaldo was omitted) and 2007 was the only year they have both appeared in the final three and not won it – Kaka was the recipient that year. Fernando Torres (honestly), Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Franck Ribery and now Manuel Neuer have completed the trio over the years.
Manuel Neuer’s inclusion is a rarity, as only four other goalkeepers have featured in the shortlist since the award’s creation in 1956 – Lev Yashin (1963, the only keeper to win), Dino Zoff (1973) Ivo Viktor (1976) and Oliver Kahn (2001 and 2002). This surely speaks volumes about the season the World Cup winning stopper has had, and many people – not least those who support Bayern – will argue his inclusion is deserved.
However, many English football watchers and Chelsea fans alike will argue there should be room in the final three for our very own Eden Hazard.
His rise since joining us from Lille has been meteoric, and many believe his form last year was the finest year of his fledgling career. He has scored a very respectable 19 goals in 35 games in 2014 – just over a goal every two games, a strike rate an out-and-out striker would be pleased with.
However, Ronaldo and Messi regularly play in a position more akin to an out-and-out striker and naturally have scored far more goals in 2014 than Hazard – Ronaldo 52 in 43 games, and Messi 49 in 53. There is of course a raging debate over the quality of the rest of La Liga, many sceptics claiming the ‘two horse’ nature of La Liga greatly belittles those stats, whereas an arguably more competitive English Premier League makes it nigh-on impossible to achieve those kinds of goalscoring figures.
That said, given his position goals are not his primary concern, and has assisted 15 goals over the calendar year, with a pass completion rate of 86%, better than both Ronaldo (82%) and Messi (83%). His 15 assists is only two shy of the ‘big two’, both of whom managed 17.
He is regularly heralded for his vision and explosive pace, and a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks in his possession. While the argument for the world’s third best player is debatable, it cannot be denied that on his day Hazard can be every bit the world class player that the title demands he should be. While there are things he needs to improve, for example his decision making lets him down on occasion, and sometimes can go missing in games, it is worth remembering that he is only 24, giving away 5 years to Ronaldo and 3 to Messi – and even those two can have their off days.
While he is no stranger to the demands of professional football and playing in the biggest and best competitions, he is still developing a footballing mind, he is still a raw precocious talent that needs nurturing and under Mourinho this season we are finally seeing the very best of Eden Hazard. And given time, I have every confidence we will see him blossom into the very best in the world in a Blue shirt.