September 26, 2017

What can Gladbach’s fans expect from Thorgan Hazard?

With all footballing eyes currently fixed on the World Cup in Brazil, it can be easy for transfers to fly under the radar. One transfer that definitely won’t have been missed by Belgian fans is Thorgan Hazard’s latest loan move – this time to Germany and the Bundesliga’s Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Many football folks were surprised when Thorgan Hazard moved to Chelsea in 2012 from the French Ligue 1 side, Lens. Chelsea’s purchase of the younger Hazard brother was interpreted as a compassionate signing to ease the settling in of his older and more recognised brother, Eden, into the team. However, it was again surprising when he moved from Chelsea to Zulte Waregem in Belgium’s (first division) Pro League on loan. No one really knew what to expect from him, so it was a pleasant surprise when Hazard churned out a glut of great performances.

After these two previous moves, Hazard’s latest move to Gladbach won’t be viewed with raised eyebrows, given his recent success, but instead viewed with interest as to whether or not Hazard can assert himself in the higher level of competition of Germany’s Bundesliga.

That Thorgan Hazard is not ready for Chelsea’s first team is no surprise to anyone. On one hand, the Belgian Pro League isn’t of sufficient quality test for Hazard, despite the fourteen goals he scored last season (6th best in the Pro League). On the other hand, Zulte Waregem can contain Hazard no longer: it was time to let him go, so that Hazard could test himself at the next level. Anderlecht nearly swooped in for Hazard in January as they sparked to an unlikely title run, but as it transpired, Anderlecht won the league without Hazard’s help.

So what can Mönchengladbach expect from Thorgan Hazard?

Well, if you’ve seen Eden Hazard play there are many similarities between the two brothers, rather than just their surnames. For example, they are happiest when playing just behind the striker; they are authoritative play-makers, but they do not bother with the defensive side of the game. So if Hazard, the younger, is going to be a focal point of Mönchengladbach’s game, then he will need a talented enough player behind him in the midfield to pull the defensive shift. Both brothers like to drop between the opposition lines, look for the ball, then play the perfect pass to unlock the opponent’s defense.

There was always a sense, however, that hHazard may be getting too big for his boots while at Zulte Waregem. Having pushed for a move to Anderlecht in January, or at least his agent did, Hazard stayed at Zulte Waregem on the understanding he would be made captain and also the taker of penalties, free kicks, and corners. While he kept his set piece duties, he offered the armband back to previous captain Davy de Fauw (now of Club Brugge) after angry backlash from the club’s fans. Hazard knew how important de Fauw was to Zulte Waregem, and was keen to see the former captain rewarded accordingly.

During his time at Zulte Waregem, Hazard displaced Franck Berrier as the club’s principal play-maker. After a disagreement between Berrier and striker Mbaye Leye, which resulted in an on-field slap from Leye, it was one or the other for coach Franky Dury and he opted to push Berrier out of the club and on loan to KV Oostende. This move allowed Hazard to slot nicely into his favourite position behind the forward, and it’s fair to say that the club made the right call and their continued success in the league astounding nearly everybody except Dury himself.

In 2013, toward the end of his first season and start of his second season with Zulte Waregem, Hazard was in fantastic form – and on a consistent basis too. He scored 9 goals and assisted 10 which gave him a hand in 46% of all of Zulte Waregem’s goals during this period, a fantastic accomplishment on a side that pushed Anderlecht all the way to the final day in the 2012-13 season – after being written off as possible relegation fodder in the pre-season. Zulte  solidified this achievement with a fourth place finish the next season after their first ever foray into European competition.

Hazard has been in the unenviable position of being labeled before people had even seen him play. As the “brother of Eden” there has always been the expectation attached that Thorgan would be a key player before he’d even settled in. Fortunately, he clearly has the mental toughness to thrive under this pressure, as he demonstrated during his profitable time in Belgium. That said, the Bundesliga will be a much bigger stage, but one where his talents will likely shine through, if given the chance.

Germany seems like a good fit for Hazard. There was interest from Spanish clubs, in particular Málaga, who were close to bringing him in. And while a talented play-maker should be able to fit in in any league, there is a certain pragmatism to Hazard’s game that makes Germany seem like the better fit as a next step for the developing play-maker. While he drifts into space and looks for openings, there is a flexibility to his game that lends itself to an ambitious German club such as Mönchengladbach.

 

What does the future hold for Thorgan Hazard?

On the precedent established by his time in Belgium, he seems to hold his future in his own hands. He has abundant talent and has clearly outgrown the Pro League. His move to Mönchengladbach may be the most important of his career thus far. At Zulte Waregem, Hazard made a name for himself, but now it is time for him to prove himself to everybody and convince everyone that he isn’t just “Eden Hazard’s brother” but that he is Thorgan Hazard, an attacking midfielder who top European clubs should be clamouring to sign.

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Luke Harvey is an editor at http://www.benefoot.net.

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