Eden Hazard insisted he had lived the dream after announcing his retirement from football at the age of 32, the Belgian bringing to an end a career marked by dazzling skill and an impressive haul of trophies but which was ultimately wrecked by injuries.
Hazard rarely featured for Real Madrid having joined the Spanish giants for £88.5m from Chelsea in June 2019, in total making 76 appearances during his four years at the Bernabéu, only completing 90 minutes in six of those, and not once after December 2021. It was a situation the winger accepted could no longer continue.
“You must listen to yourself and say stop at the right time,” Hazard wrote in a statement posted on Instagram. “After 16 years and more than 700 matches played, I have decided to end my career as a professional footballer. I was able to realise my dream, I have played and had fun on many pitches around the world. Thank you to everyone for these great times, I will miss you all.”
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Born in La Louvière, Hazard came to prominence in France with Lille, where a string of captivating and decisive performances made a move to one of Europe’s leading clubs increasingly inevitable. Come the summer of 2012, Real, Barcelona, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal were all said to be keen on landing the 21-year-old but he ultimately chose to move to another suitor in Chelsea, with their victory over Bayern Munich in that year’s Champions League final a deciding factor.
“Chelsea has the best project,” said Hazard following the completion of his £32m move to Stamford Bridge. “The team is young and I have a better chance to play there. If I play well enough at Chelsea, I could win my place in the starting team. When they won the Champions League, I told myself: ‘Why not Chelsea?’”
Things started well for Hazard in west London – he provided an assisted on his Premier League debut against Wigan and scored himself soon after against Newcastle. But there were also some early bumps, most notably the red card he was shown at Swansea in January 2013 for kicking a teenage ballboy in frustration.
Eden Hazard celebrates scoring for Chelsea against Arsenal in the 2019 Europa League final. It would prove to be the Belgian’s final appearance for the west London club. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters
Hazard got over his jaw-dropping loss of cool in south Wales and over the course of the next six years established himself as one of Chelsea’s very best players. Creative, quick, strong and ruthless, Hazard had it all and was crucial to the team’s success in that time, most notably winning two Premier League titles, two Europa Leagues, an FA Cup and League Cup. In 2015, he was also named PFA player of the year.
Come the summer of 2019, and with Chelsea in yet another period of transition, it became inevitable that Hazard would be on the move again. This time, however, there was only one club he was ever likely to join, with Real determined to make the then 28-year-old their star capture ahead of the new season, as well as essentially Cristiano Ronaldo’s long-term replacement following his move to Juventus the previous year.
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It appeared a perfect fit but things never truly got going for Hazard in Madrid. All in all, he suffered 18 separate injuries during his time in the Spanish capital, which some put down to a lack of dedication on his part away from the pitch. Despite this, he still managed to play a part in the winning of six trophies, including two La Liga titles and one Champions League. At Lille he also won a Ligue 1 title and the Coupe de France in the same season.
It is, however, for what he did at Chelsea, for whom he made 352 appearances and scored 110 goals, and for Belgium, for whom he made 126 appearances and scored 33 goals, captaining his country at the most recent World Cup in Qatar, that Hazard will be best remembered. He was, quite simply, one of the most talented players of his generation.
“A special thank you to my family, my friends, my advisors and the people who have been close to me in good times and bad,” added Hazard in his Instagram statement. “Finally, a huge thank you to you, my fans, who have followed me for all these years and for your encouragement everywhere I have played. Now is the time to enjoy my loved ones and have new experiences. See you off the field soon my friends.”