--> It's been announced, Thorgan Hazard is back to Zulte-Waregem for a year, let's hope it goes well for him :)
Hello to all, here I am again, back to explore the continuing adventures of Thorgan Hazard. Thorgan, 20, is the younger brother of Eden and has just had a successful period on loan at Belgium club Zulte-Waregem with five goals and eleven assists. Football has been on a hiatus lately but rumours never stop and in stark contrast to the Juan Mata/Luiz rumours, the rumours concerning less visible players such as Thorgan will always be more grounded in reality. In mid-June SportFootMagazine (one of the more reliable papers in Belgium) reported that a total 13 clubs were interested in Thorgan Hazard. One month later articles concerning his loan move are increasing and the number of clubs decreasing with some senior club officials making several statements concerning him.
So Many Choices
As of now, four countries have been linked to Thorgan. One has been ruled out by the player, the other has obvious links to Chelsea, he has already excelled in the third and the last would give him a taste of what to expect when/if he plays for the Chelsea first team.
Thorgan shut this possibility out himself. When asked about the Ligue 1 in late April 2013, he answered : "C'est un championnat très fermé. Et passer après Eden, ce n'est peut-être pas la meilleure chose". Which translates to "It's a very closed league. And to go after after Eden, it might not be the best thing."
On the one hand, that's too bad. It really is. Ligue 1 is a definite step up to the Jupiler Pro League and passing the opportunity to play against the likes of Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and now Falcao because of his brother doesn't seem like a smart move. I am convinced a 20-year-old Eden would have jumped at the opportunity to join the Ligue 1 if faced with the same opportunity.
In a way, Thorgan is the epitome of the younger brother trying to make his own way in the world. The issue lies in the fact that at some point in life, he will have to realise that he will not be able to avoid every single place his brother has been to.
On the other hand, it is the more rational choice. Eden Hazard isn't a good player who went through the Ligue 1 and moved on to better things. Eden Hazard was a force of nature with god-like status in Lille. He terrified the biggest French clubs for what must have seemed an eternity. Reputation is as much a tool or hindrance for football players as it is for politicians. For example, Gareth Bale is known to be a diver. He was fouled several times in the box this year and did not get the penalty because his reputation played against him. Eden's reputation is such that it is likely that no matter what Thorgan does in Ligue 1, if he does not at least equal Eden's performances at the same age, his reputation will suffer and that would not be good for such a young player.
France would have been the best choice if his brother did not exist but he does.
A good championship for young players. They have very few hidden gems because of how intensively major european clubs scout this championship. The scarsity of articles linking Hazard to a move to the Netherlands probably mean that it is as unlikely as a move to France but the great partnership Chelsea FC are entertaining with Vitesse Arnhem could signify a loan deal. Indeed, the club has been giving first team football to a number of Chelsea youths for a couple of years now but for now there seems to be no interest in Thorgan Hazard.
A better championship than fans give it credit for. The Jupiler Pro League is similar to the American one. Belgium clubs generally produce strong players with good stamina but technically weaker than the Ligue 1 and the Eredivisie. There is a clear difference in long term quality between the top 4 and the rest : Anderlecht and Standard, Genk and Club Brugge. Contrary to what some believe, Zulte-Waregem is a mid-table club in Belgium (think West Bromwich Albion) and just had an amazing year last year. Can they reiterate that feat ? I do not believe so. Most Belgian clubs tend to rely on youths and national transfers. Zulte is not a club that can attract the better players of the Jupiler League.
Who? Anderlecht - Genk - Zulte Waregem
Anderlecht : Historically renowned, Anderlecht is the Manchester United of Belgium. It has always been there and always will be. Anderlecht are publicly acknowledged to have been interested in Thorgan since the end of his Zulte-Waregem loan. Capable of offering Champions League Football, incredibly skilled youths (Dennis Praet and Massimo Bruno) and the friendship of Jordan Lukaku (who I do not count as an incredibly skilled youth). Anderlecht is the strongest club in Belgium and seem like a match made in heaven for Thorgan Hazard. Unfortunately, for the past week, reports have clearly announced Anderlecht as being out of the race as they requested an option to buy Thorgan at the end of the season. Chelsea refused.
Genk : If you need me to tell you who Genk is, shame on you. Chelsea played Genk in the Champions League less than two years ago. If you need me to tell you who Genk is, shame on you. Their last 3 majors sales have become some of the most talked about young players in the world and two of those three now belong to Chelsea FC. Genk gave us Thibault Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne. Genk made a staggering 28 million profit in 2012 (we are talking about a club from Belgium here) and are playing some good football. Genk are in the play-offs rounds for the Europa League after winning the National Cup. Coach Mario Been has signed a new contract and admitted to Sporza (a Flemish paper) that he has been talking to Thorgan. Chairman Herbert Houden also said that "Ik wil eigenlijk niks over Hazard zeggen omdat ik vooral niks verkeerds wil zeggen". Which translates to "I don't want to say anything about Hazard because I don't want to say anything wrong". If they are at the stage where the Club Chairman has to watch his words, negotiations might well be advanced. On the other hand, club star - Jelle Vossen - is looking for a way out of the club, with Schalke reportedly interested, and if he does leave his replacements leave much to be desired. Despite selling many key players over the years, Genk have always found adequate replacements. I believe that if the move to Genk does happen it won't happen before the striker situation is resolved as Thorgan Hazard won't have such an effective marksman to provide for if he does.
Zulte-Waregem : The surprise package of the year, Thorgan excelled for his club last year and unsurprisingly Zulte-Waregem coach, Francky Dury, was awarded the Coach of the Year prize. Zulte-Waregem will be in the play-off's for the Champions League but their qualification is not at all guaranteed, without Hazard they seem to lack a certain hunger which the latter instills in his teammates. Francky Dury is keen to bring Thorgan back. The younger Hazard brings a quality that the team lacks. Aside from two or three players younger players not one would make the starting eleven or even the bench for any Premier League side. The question is, can they perform again next year? It really depends on Thorgan Hazard. The setting is familiar, the team is well set-up and the coach is experienced. How importantly does Thorgan rate European Football in his transfer, does he and Chelsea FC even believe Zulte-Waregem can access the group stages of the Champions League? Might Thorgan not feel that Zulte-Waregem just had a one hit-wonder season like Lille and Montpellier? Two perfects examples of teams performing against the odds, eventually winning the title just to sell their better performers (Lille : Hazard, Cabaye - Montpellier : Giroud, Belhanda) and find themselves nowhere near the title race the following season.
Conclusion : Belgium would not be a bad choice. Of the three clubs, Anderlecht would offer the least amount of guaranteed football but he would be playing with the best players Belgium can offer with Biglia and Suarez and the best youths in Bruno and Praet. Anderlecht also have a bit of a glaring hole on their left wing which Hazard can easily fill but the latest reports count them out and therefore so will I. Genk would guarantee the Europa League - and Hazard could easily forge his way into the starting eleven - a well balanced team with a good coach. Genk would be the best destination if Jelle Vossen stays. Zulte-Waregem also offers a good coach with a good working relationship with Thorgan, a guaranteed place in the starting eleven and even the possibility of Champions League football. Anderlecht would be better but the choice between the other two is really a matter of rationality and belief. Rationally, Genk is the better team and the bigger club but Thorgan has to believe he can forge a permanent place in the starting eleven. Ideally, Zulte-Waregem could continue on their good run and even win a place in the Champions league. Thorgan would be an automatic starter but there is no guarantee it will work as well as last year.
Most popular league in the world, the land of Football. Home of Chelsea FC, Eden Hazard and Emma Watson. Need I say more?
Recently, reports have indicated that Middlesbrough could be interested in a Thorgan Hazard loan. Tony Mowbray has already taken good care of Josh McEachran this past year and although the young Englishman failed to make the impact Chalobah did in his club but he did prove himself capable when playing for them. I would consider the Championship a good challenge for Thorgan Hazard and a step up from Zulte-Waregem at least. For Thorgan, the advantages of the Championship will be the number of fixtures and the physical difficulty of playing so many times. The move to Middlesbrough could be an interesting gamble for Thorgan and Chelsea. He would definitely be more visible to the English media and he will be talked about on a more regular basis; that could, as I said before, be good or bad because his mental capacity and the increased scrutiny on his performances won't escape him and he will begin to acquire a permanent reputation in the eyes of Chelsea and opposition fans.
Once again it all rests on Thorgan. Does he feel ready to be constantly supervised by a media a lot more forceful, vindictive and powerful than the one in Belgium? Then he should go to England and Middlesbrough. Does he feel ambitious enough to join Genk and battle in the Europa League? Or does he feel the familiar setting of Zulte-Waregem would be the best for his continuing evolution. Let us not forget that changing clubs does not always work for the best (looking at you Torres). For those who think Middlesbrough would be the stronger club, you would be wrong. The team of Zulte-Waregem last year would have been on equal ground with a team like Norwich City and Southampton every day of the week. Anderlecht are even stronger, how much so? I don't know. It is hard to compare Anderlecht with an English team but I would rate them somewhere between Everton and Swansea City level.
Thorgan Hazard has a very interesting choice to make and he does not lack the suitors. No matter what he does, he is strong and gritty enough to be a key part of every club fighting for his signature. In hindsight, they could be all be regarded as good moves. The real question is, which one will be the best move?