Eden Hazard, a (more) untouchable icon? “The Belgian press has been very complacent”

“If you were a coach, would you put Eden Hazard on the pitch? Would it be deserved?”. “Why can we still be convinced that you can go back to being the player you were two or three years ago?” Eden Hazard faced several incisive questions in press conference Monday. Gently jostled by the journalists at the dawn of this World Cup in Qatar, the Belgian international responded as he always did, with a smile and in a respectful manner, but clearly perceived the doubts about him. No, the Belgian international is no longer the untouchable player he was a few years ago, everyone understood that. Optimism and enthusiasm gave way to skepticism. Observers, commentators and Belgian journalists no longer hide their concern. Critics, already present for a long time in Spain, are now gaining the national press. Suddenly, the question is asked: has Hazard sometimes been protected or at least (in)voluntarily spared by the Belgian press, despite his disappointing performances? Have we “prohibited” scratching an icon with huge sympathy capital? Has her status and image to fans changed? Decryption of the Hazard case with Jean-Michel De Waele, sports sociologist (ULB).

During his press conference, Eden Hazard was a little titillated by the journalists. It wasn’t always like this. The criticisms also seem to come from Belgium and not only from abroad, from Spain in particular? How did you perceive this?

I think that the Belgian sports press is usually very kind, very complacent compared to other countries like Spain, Italy, France or the United Kingdom. And what about the Netherlands, where it is sometimes unspeakably harsh? In Belgium, we are rather nice, empathetic people. The sports press is a small medium in Belgium because it is a small country. In addition, it is divided between French and Dutch speakers and therefore we have a lot of complacency. It’s a microcosm with some journalists very close to the Devils, sometimes supporters. Some are totally in love with Eden Hazard. Others have an almost family closeness, like Vincent Langendries. And I’m not criticizing it, it’s not an attack. It’s a small country where everyone knows everyone. We were very accommodating…

So you find that we sometimes lacked critical thinking?

Yes, vis-à-vis Eden Hazard, the national team, Roberto Martinez. Moreover, supporters in Belgium are sometimes less fooled than the beautiful stories told to them in the press…

We have the feeling that Eden Hazard has sometimes been a little (over)protected by the Belgian press, perhaps not a patriotic reflex? Do you share this feeling?

Patriotism in Belgium is always a bit difficult. Hazard is an icon. It is very difficult in Belgium to criticize Kompany, De Bruyne, Courtois, Eddy Merckx or Hazard. In sport, we don’t have this culture of being able to both honor the extraordinary athletes that they are, but nevertheless not make them perfect men. Afterwards, there may also be respect for his private life which plays a role. It may be facing some difficulties that we are not aware of. What’s really going on with Hazard? Is there a mental problem? A problem in his private life? No one knows except the people who know him best and who are closest to him. Did these people want to protect him? Which would start from a good feeling. It’s the boundary between private life and public life…

One of the potential reasons for his desire to stay at Real Madrid at all costs could be his staggering salary of more than 27 million euros per year. Which would be perfectly understandable. However, this element is not often mentioned…

Obviously, we love the Red Devils so much… If they are extraterrestrials or demi-gods, you don’t say that they are trying to fill their wallets. Or that such and such a transfer from a Red Devil is more for pecuniary reasons than for sporting choices. He is not the first Red Devil who has made major mistakes in his sporting choices. It’s very difficult for people who have a real closeness to make sense of things and to have a bit of a critical sense. Be careful, I would also not like the Belgian sports press to show the same excesses as the media in other countries. Our conviviality as well as our human and social relationships are unique to us and we don’t have to change. That does not mean, however, that we should avoid calling a spade a spade. At the moment, Hazard is nowhere and it’s not just Real Madrid’s villainous manager who has a grudge against him. There is a deeper problem and we need to be able to talk about it.

© DR.

Far be it from us to communitarize the debate, but during the press conference which took place on Monday, the most critical questions came from Flemish journalists. Is there a difference in the media treatment in the north and the south of the country?

Clearly, Flemish journalists are more cash. They have more means, they are more numerous. But I think they are more critical and more incisive. Just look at player ratings every weekend. They are more critical, including of Flemish clubs, and less partisan. The mentality is more critical, influenced by what is done in the Netherlands. However, I don’t think it’s communal. If it was De Bruyne, they would be critical of him. Francophones are less numerous and closer to Hazard. And then the report to the national team is different too. Francophones believed until recently that the Red Devils were going to save the country. We see in the national team something other than the Flemings. Even if the Flemish supporters also support her, there is a different relationship there. The national team is more for the Francophones than the Flemings a symbol of unity, the symbol of a united Belgium. The Francophones not being so numerous in the national team, obviously Hazard is even more protected than the others.

In the eyes of Belgian fans, has Hazard’s status changed? Sportingly, he is no longer untouchable…

Yes. We can be patient. He has announced his return many times but everyone can see his difficulties at Real Madrid this season and his level which is no longer the same with the Red Devils. Everyone sees that it is no longer the Eden Hazard that we knew. We can say that it’s an “off day”, that he hasn’t played enough, that he’s running out of playing time. Well, at some point, all the fans, even those inhabited by the keenest hope to see him shine again, realize that it’s not right…

On the other hand, is his sympathy capital still intact? We remember these images of communion with the public on the Grand Place in Brussels after the 2018 World Cup. There is something emotional between Hazard and the Belgian public…

We’ll see what he does at the World Cup. If he plays like at Real Madrid, his sympathy capital will be greatly affected. I think that somewhere, we all dream that Eden Hazard comes back to life thanks to the Devils, thanks to Roberto Martinez, and that he relaunch his career after a wonderful World Cup. We can’t help but dream that he will become himself again. We all still have this secret dream in us. Personally, I don’t believe it because he had the opportunity to show it many times under the Devils and at Real.

What did you think of his statement that Trossard deserved to play more than him?

I found it quite touching and moving to admit that and that he gives himself a 0/10 rating since moving to Real Madrid. There is nevertheless the acceptance on his part of a problem. We don’t know which one, but to solve a problem, we must first accept it.

Do you think it is a mental problem?

I do not know. I think there is a problem but we are not informed. It is perhaps quite legitimate that we are not. I always insist on the right to privacy and medical secrecy. I don’t know where the problem lies. He is not the first star who shines for several years and then declines more quickly than we thought. In any case, his move to Real Madrid was a gigantic mistake in his career.


Should he have left Real Madrid long ago as some suggest to revive his career and get playing time?

Undeniably. Hang on like that… I don’t know who advises it, but it is not in the odor of sanctity with the supporters, the coach. What did he still have to gain from always saying: ‘Yes, but this season, I will prove that I have my place’. You may have to admit that he has become an average player. This is not the first, he has already had an exceptional career. Not everyone is Ronaldo. Not everyone can stay at this level until they are 35-36 years old. He may have to accept that he is no longer what he was, and the redemption may go through that. Taking a step back, in order to perhaps come back or find that he will not come back, could be beneficial to him. Afterwards, I’m not saying that he should come back to Belgium. But look at Simon Mignolet, and it’s not the Brugge supporter that I am speaking: at some point, he realized that returning to Belgium would allow him to play for titles and win trophies. He is the best goalkeeper in Belgium but he may not have the level to start at Liverpool. So instead of declining and staying in England, he says to himself: “I’m going to come back to Belgium to play the Champions League. He understood that it was better to adapt his level and be the best goalkeeper in Belgium rather than an average goalkeeper in a European championship”.

Do you find that there is a lack of humility in Hazard’s boss?

Yes, or a mad hope to return. Maybe he’s surrounded by people who tell him: “it will come back, it will come back”. Maybe his salary at Real is such that he thinks to himself: ‘I’m not fine, but in the meantime I’m filling up my bank account’. He wouldn’t be the first…

Last question Mr De Waele. What is your prediction for this World Cup? Do you think Belgium can achieve a great course?

No, I am one of those who are pessimistic. I don’t see with the defense we have – it’s the lambda supporter speaking here – how we could go far in the tournament. And then I think that Roberto Martinez no longer brings much. There is no renewal. I am not optimistic. However, I’m old enough to remember that in ’86, my generation was not more optimistic before the World Cup in Mexico. And yet… A World Cup is 6 or 7 games. With a positive dynamic, you never know what can happen. But I am not optimistic. Moreover, the climate in Belgium is not one of optimism. There are not many people who believe that we can go to the final or win. I don’t see any articles describing the Devils’ potential course before the start of the competition. We don’t plan too much. There are less expectations, less pressure. It may produce excellent results. In football, that’s what makes it beautiful, you never know…


‘I didn’t suck’: Eden Hazard candid about personal situation and competition with Trossard

The truthful interview with Eden Hazard: “If Real ask me to leave…

The Hazard and Lukaku cases, the ambitions for Qatar, the post-World Cup: the Devils seen by Marc Wilmots

Eden Hazard and Tessa Wullaert
Eden Hazard and Tessa Wullaert © BELGA

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