Three years is a long time in football, as any Leicester City fan will tell you.

It was about three years ago that then-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho mentioned Belgian winger Eden Hazard in the same breadth as multiple Ballon D’Or winners Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Mourinho claimed that in Chelsea’s 2014/15 campaign, Hazard “was better in spite of the fact that Ronaldo was fantastic” – citing the fact that Hazard had led the Blues to the Premier League title and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid side ended the season empty-handed.

Since then, despite winning another Premier League title, Hazard has not really improved as much as neutral observers such as myself would have a) expected and b) liked to have seen.

Hazard is now 27 and is not far off 600 appearances for club and country.

Considering his ability, experience and enormous potential, the next season for Hazard is a crucial one if he is to deliver on his promise.


Mentality and desire are key

The best players in the world consistently show up when it matters most.

Up until recently, Cristiano Ronaldo was enduring a tough season, but in both legs of Real Madrid’s crucial last 16 tie against PSG in the Champions League he delivered.

When Zinedine Zidane’s side were 1-0 down in the first leg, he smashed home the equalising penalty, kept demanding the ball and was in the right place at the right time to make it 2-1 and turn the tie in Los Blancos’ favour.


Similarly, against Hazard’s Chelsea, Lionel Messi grabbed the all-important leveller at Stamford Bridge in the away leg and scored two glorious goals in the return match at Camp Nou.

Despite playing in his favoured position in last week’s return leg, Hazard didn’t impress and assume responsibility enough – instead it was fellow attacker Willian who was Chelsea’s most dangerous player.

The Belgian must change his mentality and not let his head drop when the going gets tough – we saw this too often during Chelsea’s disastrous 2015-16 season, and also in Belgium’s 3-1 quarter-final defeat to Wales at Euro 2016.


Chelsea instability can’t be helping

Another point which could be made is that the ups-and-downs at Chelsea can’t be a help to any player who wants to improve.

After every Premier League winning season, the following campaign always seem to be a disaster of sorts for the West Londoners.

Speculation has been rife about Antonio Conte leaving at the end of the season amid disagreements with the club’s hierarchy.


I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that this the team’s form has suffered as a result.

We’ve even seen top players such as Thibaut Courtois, N’Golo Kanté and Gary Cahill put in some dismal displays in recent months.

If Hazard wants reach the next level, he has to escape this turbulent environment and find a club who are overall more stable.

Real Madrid appear to have moved on from their phase of chucking managers out of the door every year – their overall transfer strategy has also moved towards bringing in a mix of young, promising players (Raphaël Varane, Marco Asensio, Dani Ceballos) to gel with the proven, world-class stars they already possess.

Hazard clearly fits into the latter category – to see the Belgian playing alongside the likes of Asensio, Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, and in front of midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, is a thought to make Real fans drool.


Hazard must put himself in the shop window in Russia

In Hazard’s defence, he has been played out of position by Antonio Conte in recent weeks.

He is not a ‘false nine’ and playing in this position doesn’t benefit the player or the team.


Compare him to compatriot Kevin De Bruyne – who has been magnificent for Manchester City this season – a midfielder who is afforded freedom by his boss Pep Guardiola and there’s no doubt this helps him to perform better.

Hazard will be given such freedom by Belgium manager Roberto Martinez at the World Cup in Russia – Martinez has always been an attack-minded manager.

The Chelsea man will have no excuse for under-performing and if things go well for Belgium, they could face tournament favourites Germany in the quarter-finals.

This is the type of game in which Hazard simply must show up.

Belgium have a strong side – if Hazard excels and Real Madrid do come calling, this could be the big move the forward needs just as he is approaching his prime.


There is no doubting Hazard’s talent

Without looking at numbers and statistics, Hazard is a player whose low centre of gravity and ability to dribble past players makes him great to watch when he’s in the mood.

His mazy footwork and silk-like touch get fans off their seats at times – there aren’t many other players able to do this in the Premier League.


But when you do look at his stats, and compare them to a player like Jesse Lingard, they aren’t favourable.

That’s not a slight on Lingard – who is a talented, effective player with an eye for goal.

Yet in the Premier League this season, Hazard has just three more goals and one fewer assist than the England midfielder, despite Lingard not being a guaranteed starter (he’s made seven fewer starts than Hazard) and playing for a Manchester United team whose problems in attack have been well-documented.

It’s time for Hazard to prove his critics wrong and become the consistent world-class game-changer that we all know he has the capability to be.

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