In the last two Premier League seasons, fans were treated to some of best performances possible from what are now two of the league’s greatest and most expensive exports. When Cristiano Ronaldo left to Real Madrid from Manchester United the Premier League lost the best talent in the world to La Liga. The player who some years later stood up and took up the mantel left by Cristiano was Tottenham’s Gareth Bale. He lit up the league for Spurs taking them to the Champions League and earning plaudits as one of the world’s finest talents. Then La Liga and Real Madrid came calling once again and the Premier League’s finest was exported for a world record fee. In stepped Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan not without his controversy stepped into Bale’s spotlight seamlessly and put the league on his shoulders and carried it as its premier talent, nearly dragging Liverpool to an unexpected league title. Alas, a bout of ill-timed hunger and a Barcelona transfer offer later and another PFA Players’ Player of the Year is plying his trade in the La Liga.
Arise, Eden Hazard. It has been the Belgian winger that has decided to show his class picking up the baton from the departing Suarez and he looks set to cap the year off as his predecessors did by collecting the PFA gong. So what would we see if we compare these three talents’ best seasons in the Premier League? Bale and Suarez’s exploits earned them moves abroad for exorbitant fees, does Eden Hazard follow the same trend? Arguably, they are three players with very different approaches to the game. However, what isn’t up for debate is the role they played for their teams in these respective seasons. They are/were the focal point, the outlet and the man expected to create something from nothing when everything else was/is failing.
Gareth Bale’s 2012/13 season prompted Real Madrid into a summer splurge of £85million. The Welsh international had already established himself as one of the league’s top talents, picking up the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award two years prior. However, this was the year he stepped out and stood head and shoulders above all his fellow Premier league professionals. His efforts were immense as he single handedly dragged Tottenham to within a point of a Champion’s League spot, eventually finishing the season 5th behind rivals Arsenal. Bale contributed 21 goals that year, hugely impressive considering that he was considered a left-back when first signed by the club. Bale became such an important figure that his position became a freer role. Bale only managed 4 assists that season, unfortunately for Tottenham he couldn’t be on the end of his own passes, which if anything highlights how what he did do he done himself for Tottenham.
Luis Suarez had made an instant impact upon arrival in Liverpool. It was clear his talents were vast, but it was his temperament that was going to hold him back. The infamous ‘bite’ against Chelsea was still the most bizarre thing I had witnessed watching football at the time. However, on return from the ban he picked up quickly and took a seat at the throne Bale had left open after his move to Madrid. 31 goals and 12 assists later Suarez had thrown Liverpool to what was nearly their first ever Premier League title. When original aims were just to achieve a Champions’ League spot Suarez had put his side in a position where they, in fact, should’ve won the league but instead settled for runners-up. Being directly involved in 44 goals in a season is numbers that you would only usually expect of Messi or Ronaldo. Luis Suarez in 2013/14 had thrown his name right into the hat to be considered the best outside of Messi and Ronaldo’s Ballon D’Or party.
There is a key difference in Eden Hazard’s big season compared to Bale and Suarez. It’s not that he has only managed 13 goals, or his 8 assists behind Suarez’s 12, not even the fact his successful take on percentage (65.38%) is comfortably larger than the others. It’s the fact that he is going to end the season with a Premier League winner’s medal to go along with his personal accolades. Hazard this season is, admittedly, part of a Chelsea team that was always capable of winning the title, especially in comparison to Bale’s Tottenham and Suarez’s Liverpool. However, his personal contribution as their most key element cannot be understated. Look no further than the game against Manchester United on Saturday where it was his goal that secured them 3 points. His contributions have been pushing them towards the title all year. He has picked out more key passes (79) than Suarez (75) or Bale (71) did, he has taken less shots (67) than Bale (165) and Suarez (181) did and his 87% pass completion rate is superior to Bale’s 79% and Suarez’s 71%. All this while having only played one game less than the two of them at thispoint.
Their importance to their respective sides is similar, what isn’t though is their approach to the game. Gareth Bale is an absolute physical specimen, he coupled his ability with the fact he was big, strong and aggressively quick. Bale bullied Premier League opposition with pure athleticism and a deadly left boot. Luis Suarez while supremely talented with a ball at his foot is extremely robust in his approach. His hostile, pit-bull-like nature when chasing down opposition flowed into his direct dribbling and attacking style. All that coupled with supreme technical ability made him a nightmare for opposition. Then we have Eden hazard, who is much more finesse, guile and graceful with his talents. There aren’t many players that are as enjoyable to watch with a ball at their feet, it is usually worth the admission fee alone. His 65.38% take on percentage highlights that, he glides past opposition with ease. Preference on their differing style comes purely down to personal taste, what is clear is that each approach is effective as these three different players all look to be following a similar path in terms of personal Premier League careers.
As mentioned, what Hazard has is an abundance of talent around him in the Chelsea squad to compliment his brilliance. Suarez had a flourishing partnership with Daniel Sturridge that nearly claimed the highest of prizes. While Gareth Bale had to do a lot of it himself. Hazard is a creative player that gets to play with a target man and striker like Diego Costa, with midfield support from Cesc Fabregas and protection from Nemanja Matic. That’s a group of players that makes a title challenging side. However, if you take Eden Hazard out of that equation there is a bigger piece of the puzzle missing than if you remove any of the other names mentioned.
Eden Hazard has stepped up this season as many have expected him to. He has been earmarked as one of the finest talents in the world since his teenage years at Lille. His move to Chelsea is where he was expected to confirm his status amongst the elite, this season he has taken his biggest step yet and knocked on that door. Now he is at the party looking out rather than outside looking in. Sergio Aguero is the man many expected to take Suarez’s place on the throne, and to some he may have, but injuries and a poor season for Manchester City in the league have overshadowed his 20 goals meaning the spotlight is firmly on Chelsea’s Belgian wide-man. The good thing for the Premier League is currently, it doesn’t seem like Hazard’s is going to be leaving for challenges anew, at least yet. A lot can happen in the summer but it seems that for now Eden Hazard is for Premier League fans to enjoy. As long as he stays I find it hard to see anyone dethroning him as the Premier League greatest talent.
Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez and Eden Hazard, we can all have our choice about whose star making season was most impressive. What we can all agree on is that as Premier League fans we have been treated to three tremendously talented footballers, performing at the very highest level.