Thorgan Hazard has long lived in the shadow of Eden, but following a stellar couple of seasons at Borussia Dortmund while his elder brother struggled at Real Madrid, could the best Hazard actually play in the Bundesliga?
Summer 2019 was a big one for the Hazard family. Eden was fulfilling a childhood dream by leaving Chelsea to join Madrid and his hero, Zinedine Zidane, and Thorgan was also making a big move, swapping Borussias from Mönchengladbach to Dortmund.
"Now's the right time to make the next step in my career. I'm proud to be able to play for Borussia Dortmund. They're a top club with incredible fans," the younger of the brothers had said after putting pen to paper on a five-year contract at Signal Iduna Park.
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 his time in Spain on the sidelines, notching just five goals in 43 appearances after two seasons in the Spanish capital and starting his third term largely on the bench and without a goal to his name from his first 15 games. He does, though, boast a La Liga winner's medal, while Thorgan's BVB claimed DFB Cup glory at the end of 2020/21.
And the Dortmund man can — and no doubt will when the family meets up — counter any of his brother's silverware with his superior stats. For instance, Hazard has 15 goals and 20 assists from 84 appearances for Dortmund, meaning he's been involved in 21 more goals than his brother since they both made their respective moves in 2019.
Though Thorgan didn't manage double figures for goals with seven in his first season at Dortmund, he did register 13 assists in his new colours, a tally bettered only by teammate Jadon Sancho and Bundesliga record-breaker Thomas Müller of Bayern.
Watch: All of Thorgan Hazard's Bundesliga goals and assists in 2019/20
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 was then handed the iconic number 10 shirt — vacated by Mario Götze — was recognition of his 2019/20 influence, where he became his country's top goal-getter in the division having surpassed ex-Schalke and Hamburg man Emile Mpenza's 34. It was also more than a nod to Dortmund's hopes for the role he was 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 former 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.
Axel Witsel was another familiar face who 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 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."
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.
Despite a season that saw Thorgan miss 15 Bundesliga matchdays through injury, the outscored his sibling once again in 2020/21, with a direct hand in 10 competitive goals to five. He also scored twice in Dortmund's successful cup run as he lifted a first major trophy of his career and found the back of the net in two of four appearances at the European Championships, including the winner in the 1-0 win over Portugal that booked Belgium's spot in the quarter-finals.
There have been four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions at the start of 2021/22 for Thorgan that, again, outpoint Eden's one assist from 11 club outings. The younger Hazard has also bagged five goals in nine games for his country in 2021, compared to Eden's one in 10 and the Red Devils may well have earned a spot in the UEFA Nations League final if they had the Dortmund winger at their disposal this July.
Thorgan's role for club and country becomes more significant with each passing week and it is the younger brother who is now offering sage advice for Eden as he comes to terms with more limited opportunities in the Spanish capital.
“I have been on the bench many times in my career, and the only advice that I can give him is to work hard to change the situation,” he was quoted by Marca as saying during the most recent international break that saw Thorgan score in the 3-1 win over Estonia. “It’s difficult because he has few minutes to show his worth, but at times you can win a game in five minutes.”
Thorgan proved as much in the DFB Cup second round win over Ingolstadt in September, climbing off the bench in the 71st minute - and with the score at 0-0 - before scoring in the 72nd and 81st to seal a 2-0 win for his side.
It's that kind of form that means Thorgan looks well set to have added reason to enjoy the Hazard family reunion next summer. The brothers have a bet whereby the sibling with the lowest tally of goals and assists across the campaign has to take everyone else out for dinner. When 2021/22 wraps-up, Thorgan will likely avoid picking up the bill for a third year in a row.
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