Borussia Dortmund's Thorgan hazard (l.) has outperformed older brother Eden (r.), of actual Madrid, for two seasons running. - © imago/ ...
|Borussia Dortmund's Thorgan hazard (l.) has outperformed older brother Eden (r.), of actual Madrid, for two seasons running. - © imago/ getty photographs|
|Hazard joined Dortmund on the back of a career-best season with Borussia Mönchengladbach. - Borussia Dortmund GmbH & Co. KGaA|
It sounded like the well-worn platitudes of a new signing: Eden was still expected to take all the plaudits with Thorgan continuing to play the role of 'the brother of'. It could not have worked out more differently — and happily — for the Dortmund new boy.
Injury has meant Eden has spent most of the Spanish season on the sidelines, notching just a single goal for his new team so far. He will likely be able to boast a La Liga winner's medal at the end of the protracted 2019/20 campaign, while Thorgan's BVB finished runners-up to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
But the Dortmund man can — and no doubt will when the family meets up — counter his brother's silverware with his superior stats.
Hazard grabbed 10 goals and 11 assists in the last of his five Bundesliga seasons with Gladbach. Though he didn't manage double figures for goals with seven for Dortmund, he did register 13 assists in his new colours, a tally bettered only by teammate Jadon Sancho and Bundesliga recordbreaker Thomas Müller of Bayern.
Sancho's stunning performances and the goals of Erling Haaland meant they received the lion's share of the plaudits and headlines, but Hazard was almost as influential: he was involved in 20 league goals, a feat bettered by just seven players league-wide with the likes of Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen) and Marcus Thuram (Gladbach) behind him.
The fact he will now wear the iconic number 10 shirt — vacated by Mario Götze — is recognition of his 2019/20 influence, and more than a nod to Dortmund's hopes for the role he is likely to play in the 2020/21 campaign.
It could have been very different, though. Julian Brandt arrived at the Signal Iduna Park at the same time, and with Götze and Marco Reus already on the books and Sancho a sure-fire starter in the three behind the lone striker, Hazard looked like he might face a battle for a place in Lucien Favre's starting XI.
But Dortmund's Swiss tactician knew exactly what he was getting, having handed Hazard his Bundesliga debut when the Belgium international had joined Gladbach — initially on loan — for the 2014/15 season.
Hazard missed just a single league game in 2019/20 — a rib injury forcing him to sit out the Matchday 3 defeat at Union Berlin — as his remarkable versatility complemented his skills to make him a vital component of his boss' strategy.
"He's little by little finding his position. He can play on the left or the right, he can also play through the middle as a striker or as a nine-and-a-half," explained Favre. "It's always good for a team to have flexible players, and players who are just as effective wherever they play on the pitch."
Axel Witsel played a part in convincing his international teammate to sign for BVB, and the presence of the former Benfica and Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder — along with that of the familiar face of Favre — ensured a warm welcome. The staggering numbers Hazard put up in the opening weeks ensured Dortmund's fans were just as happy to see him in their club's colours.
He had already tagged an assist when, between Matchdays 5 and 10, Hazard hit a purple patch that must have had the Dortmund powers-that-be purring and slapping themselves on the back as he — among other things — teed up Reus for the only goal in the Matchday 8 win over their former club Gladbach, before Hazard finally broke his Dortmund duck.
"He was a little bit worried, because he hadn't scored since the start of the season," said Witsel after watching Hazard find the back of the net for the first time — and record another assist — in the 3-0 Matchday 10 defeat of Wolfsburg.
"I told him to come and celebrate with me on the bench if he scored, and he did. I think that will give him confidence for the rest of the season."
|Hazard has had a direct hand in at least 20 goals in three of his last four seasons of Bundesliga football. - INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images|
Confidence — and class — were rarely in short supply. That Wolfsburg match was one of four in which Hazard tallied an assist and a goal in the league season, and even the COVID-19-enforced break did not slow his momentum: he also doubled up in the 4-0 derby win over Schalke on Matchday 26 as Dortmund raced out of the blocks on the season restart.