Prior to Eden Hazard’s move to Stamford Bridge, the way in which the Premier League elite were courting him suggested he was quite the player. And the way Hazard courted headlines and re-tweets with a series of cryptic clues as to his final destination suggested he knew it.
When he finally arrived in London, his early performances spoke of a man who was unquestionably gifted and not one for homesickness; while many foreign imports take time to settle, the Belgian carried on where he had left off for previous club Lille.
It was in these early games that I declared he would win at least one Player of the Year award. I had absolutely no doubt. But the fact that Gareth Bale ultimately bagged the lot should leave Hazard with a sobering and yet inspiring thought: Bale is the Premier League’s superstar, but the Chelsea midfielder is more than capable of taking the Welshman’s crown.
With the second coming of Jose Mourinho, it is possible that an advantage has already been given to the Blues before a ball has been kicked. This is after all the man who inspired them to instant and sustained success during his first spell in charge.
But the footballing landscape has changed a little since then, and the Portuguese must return more humble than his previous incarnation.
His time in Spain was a sporadically successful but ultimately regretful experience. That he now comes "home" may in itself be the fuel that reignites his success and elevates his players to the next level.
Mourinho has spent the last three years working with one of the greatest players currently playing the game. And whatever relationship he had with Cristiano Ronaldo, it was under his stewardship that the forward somehow became even better than he had been, fighting his own personal dual with the one player deemed better than him and filling his boots in the process.
And while Hazard is not Ronaldo, the Belgium international has the innate ability, the confidence and the time in which to improve that suggests he could at least be England’s best player if not Europe’s.
If last season was his settling in period, his return of 14 goals and 20 assists in all competitions suggests his next campaign is going to be a belter.
And if his new manager can inspire him to outdo Bale (and everyone else), instilling in him the belief that he is the best and he just has to prove it, Chelsea could be in the presence of more than one special one next season.
Do you think Hazard has what it takes to be the best player in England? And how important is he to Chelsea's long-term success?
image: © Ben Sutherland