The perennial struggle between world football’s two top players for the Ballon d’Or has become something of an inevitability, with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s personal battle taking centre stage at the pinnacle of the sport.
Other young prospects are being tipped to have the potential to break the dominant pair’s duopoly over time, with the likes of Gareth Bale, Neymar and Mario Götze mentioned as future prospective winners.
The Belgium international’s rise to prominence has been meteoric, with José Mourinho recently labelled the tricky winger as the best young player in the world.
However, with Hazard progressing and certainly one of the best players in the English game, does he have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with Messrs Messi and Ronaldo anytime soon?
Hazard shot to fame in France, starring for Lille in their unexpected 2010-11 Ligue 1 title triumph and gaining the plaudits of the European football community as a result.
A long-running wrangle for the player’s signature ensued, with the west London side beating domestic and European rivals for the talented attacker’s hand – shelling out £32 million to land Hazard in the summer of 2012.
Last term the Belgium international started his time in England well and was consistently one of the Blues’ most dangerous attacking players. Despite competition for places, Hazard started 31 Premier League games and scored nine times.
Unlike previous Chelsea managers, this season Mourinho has resisted the temptation to partner Hazard and Juan Mata in the same team – invariably opting for one or the other.
It is a testament to the Belgian’s ability that the club’s player of the season from the previous two campaigns was forced to play second fiddle and was then sold to Manchester United.
Although suffering an early season blip where he was not at his best, Hazard has been in incredible form of late. In the Blues’ last game the mercurial wideman netted a well-worked hat-trick to ensure a 3-0 victory over Newcastle and that the club sits on top of the Premier League table.
The performance against Alan Pardew’s charges lifted Hazard’s goal tally to 12 for the season domestically, with promise of plenty more strikes, assists and stellar performances to come this term.
Regardless of Hazard’s form, comparing the young star to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo at their current level is slightly unfair, as the two best players in the world are three and six years older than the 23-year-old Chelsea man respectively.
However, when you look at Messi and Ronaldo when they were 23, they were achieving significantly more than Hazard currently is.
Messi was 23 in the 2010-11 season, winning both the Champions League and La Liga with Barcelona and scoring a frightening 53 goals in 55 appearances in all competitions in the process.
Ronaldo was only 23 when he first won the Ballon d’Or in 2008, and was already a Premier League and Champions League winner. Six months after winning the first of his two Ballon d’Or accolades he would become the world’s most-expensive player.
In my opinion, in a few years’ time Hazard has all the attributes to be one of the best players in the world. However, for his influence to be anywhere near akin to that of Messi or Ronaldo, the Belgian will need to start to consistently take games by the scruff of the neck and decide fixtures through his individual ability.
Hazard’s hat-trick against Newcastle was his first in a Chelsea shirt, with the only other time he has scored three goals in one match coming in his last outing for Lille in May 2012 against Nancy.
The sheer amount of goals that the El Clásico pair net is simply incredible and should be an ambition for Hazard to strive towards. The fact that Messi scored 46 La Liga goals last term, followed by Ronaldo’s 34, shows that the Belgian has some way to go to be deemed in the same category as the pair.
Despite the likes of Luis Suárez and Sergio Agüero gaining well-deserved plaudits this season also, Hazard must be deemed as one of the best players in England, and will be a frontrunner for the national Player of the Year award.
Making the jump to be included in the company of Europe’s best players will take time and steady improvement though, but the signs are there to suggest that Hazard has as good a chance as any to be the one to threaten Messi and Ronaldo at world football’s summit.