There is something very sad about the way Eden Hazard's career has panned out since leaving Chelsea. The Belgian attacker was rightfully regarded as one of the best players in the world towards the end of his time in the Premier League.
That is why Real Madrid spent £143m to bring him to the Spanish capital back in 2019. It was a dream move for Hazard, but unfortunately, it became a move from the Premier League to Real Madrid in the mould of Gareth Bale rather than Cristiano Ronaldo or Luka Modric.
He has scored seven goals and got 11 assists in 72 appearances for Los Blancos, far below the output that was expected. That has understandably impacted his form for the Belgian national team of which he used to be the figurehead.
After the disappointment of Belgium's group stage exit at the 2022 Qatar World Cup, Hazard has called time on his international career and will focus on either getting back on track at Real Madrid or finding form elsewhere.
That begs the question; who can replace him in the Belgium team going forward as a major source of creativity?
- Eden Hazard retires from international football
- Eden Hazard admits frustration at lack of Real Madrid playing time
- Eden Hazard makes admission about Belgium compared to 2018 squad
Who can replace Eden Hazard for Belgium?
The phrase 'golden generation' is used constantly about this Belgium team, and now it seems that a revolution is needed. Roberto Martinez has gone, Hazard has gone, and others will follow, so now another generation is needed.
Which young Belgian players are on the scene right now who could feasibly bring the creativity needed to win a major tournament? Given Hazard was effective in the middle and on both wings when at his best, we're being fairly liberal with the positions here.
Jeremy Doku is a name that has been on the scene with the Belgian national team for a couple of years now and he impressed during EURO 2020. He did not have much of an impact in Qatar though when used and it seems he is yet to make good on his potential.
Doku was a star at Anderlecht before he made the slightly unexpected move to Rennes while being linked with much bigger clubs. Considering he joined the French side for €26m, Rennes will have hoped for a better return than the four goals and six assists he has got in 65 appearances.
He is still only 20 years old though and should he find more form in France or move elsewhere, Doku still has the potential to be a really key attacking player from the wide areas for Belgium in the future.
Charles De Ketelaere
AC Milan player Charles De Ketelaere is in a key phase of his development right now. He came through very early at Club Brugge and scored 25 goals and got 20 assists in 120 appearances, winning league titles in the process.
That led to AC Milan dropping €32m on him in the summer. Milan has been a great place for young players to get time and space to develop, but he is yet to make any real impact in Italy. The club and much of the fanbase has faith in him and he will be shown patience, but it could take longer than hoped before he becomes a regular starter, if at all.
He is still just 21 years old despite all of those senior appearances, and in terms of his position, he is the closest to Hazard. There is a player there and Milan will be doing Belgium a great favour if they can get him to his best.
Much like Doku, Yari Verschaeren is another name that seemed destined for the limelight a couple of years ago and then struggled to kick on. As with so many young players that are immediately expected to change the world, he is still young and still has a chance to be a star. He is now 21 years old.
He is a very centrally-focused attacker and has been in fairly decent form with Anderlecht this season, with three goals and three assists across all competitions. Those numbers can be improved upon, but there is some output to build on.
Much like De Ketelaere, he came through very young and already has 136 appearances for Anderlecht. With more space in the Belgian setup, Verschaeren could become a big name again.
Anouar Ait El Hadj
Aged 20, Anouar Ait El Hadj is a less established name than the previous on this list but is another exciting talent to come through at Anderlecht, one of the best academies in the world.
He prefers to play down the middle and has been battling with Verschaeren for space this season, but he can also play deeper and on the left wing. He has only played a handful of games this term for Anderlecht but there is excitement at the club about his future and he is one to keep an eye on.
Cisse Sandra plays slightly deeper than you'd picture Hazard playing, but he can be effective further forward too when needed.
Sandra is just 18 years old and is making a healthy number of appearances for Club Brugge in the Jupiler League while also impressing for the Under-18s. He is a name to keep an eye on and the new Belgium coach could look at fast-tracking him into the first team soon.