Author: Ashley Munson
The season finale is just around the corner in the shape of the Europa League final – against Arsenal in Baku – and it’s a match that will, in all likelihood, be Eden Hazard’s last in the blue shirt of Chelsea. It would be easy to sulk and throw petty insults his way as his ‘dream’ move to Real Madrid edges ever closer but we need to accept it’s time for him to move on.
More importantly, it’s time we celebrate what he’s done for the club and remember the moments of sheer joy he’s brought to us – the fans – and, hopefully, we’ll unite to celebrate one last triumph with Hazard taking centre stage.
The Europa League is hardly the competition Hazard would pick to leave us with; he’s a world-class talent and the tournament is just a poor man’s Champions League, but it does mean this chapter of Chelsea’s history could come to a poetic end.
Hazard arrived in London in 2012 from Lille, for a fee in the region of £32 million – a steal in comparison to today’s market. Although he missed the final through injury, in his first season he helped the team to conquer exactly that piece of silverware: the Europa League, conquered in the final against Benfica.
Prior to joining Chelsea, Hazard was earning rave reviews at Lille where he burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old before establishing himself as one of the hottest prospects in Europe with displays that ultimately earned him the move to English football. It’s perhaps another Chelsea legend, Joe Cole, who deserves credit for the Blues clinching his signature ahead of their rivals. Cole spent a season on loan at Lille – from Liverpool – where he witnessed the Belgian’s talent up close and he was in Hazard’s ear ‘every day’ encouraging him to join the ‘best club’ in England.
The Belgian, who can operate in any of the forward positions but is most potent when played in a free role, scored on his debut – a friendly against the Seattle Sounders – and continued to impress in his inaugural season netting 13 goals in the process. Hazard didn’t rest though, and the next season saw further progress as he saw himself shortlisted for the Ballon D’Or, finishing second in the voting for the PFA Player of the Year – Luis Suarez won it – and clinch both the Leagues Young Player and Chelsea’s Player of the Year awards.
The 2014/15 season proved Hazard was a player destined to stay at the top and he went one better than the prior year by winning the PFA award and became one of just a few select names to win back to back Chelsea Player of the Year award. In doing so, he helped his team to a league and EFL cup double.
The following season probably proved to be the worst during Hazard’s stay with Chelsea – from a personal and team perspective – and Hazard had to endure questions over his attitude following his contribution – or lack of it – which, in part, lead to Jose Mourinho’s sacking. Hazard wasn’t to be broken though and soon proved the cliché ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ to be true, as he strived throughout the 16/17 campaign leading Chelsea to another Premier League title.
His penultimate season saw him add the final English trophy to his honours list when he scored the only goal – a penalty – on the FA cup final. Despite the latest trophy, media attention turned to where Hazard would play his football during the 2018/19 season. The Belgian seemed destined for Spain, but the club hierarchy convinced him to stay on for one more year. He agreed and despite manager Maurizio Sarri suffering criticism, Hazard has been the shining light – again – and now he has the opportunity to sign out in style.
It will be a miracle that no football bettors are willing to risk on, to keep Hazard for another season. If, as expected, he joins Los Blancos he’ll take on a whole new challenge – filling Cristiano Ronaldo’s boots and taking Real back to the top; an achievement that would possibly see him land a Ballon D’Or. A huge challenge? Yes, but one that Hazard can achieve.
Thanks for everything Eden.