If gone by the noise that rumour mills are making, Thursday could be the last time Eden Hazard dons a blue shirt. If that’s the case, it would mean the end of an era for a player who could have easily matched the realms of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but his biggest limitation was his club.
Chelsea had signed Eden Hazard under intriguing circumstances. The club had just won the UEFA Champions League but their squad was far from settled or even exceptional. They had lost the title to Manchester United and Carlo Ancelotti’s perfect title-winning team of the previous team had started to seem rusty.
While Chelsea desperately needed a centre-half to replace Brazil’s Alex, Florent Malouda’s vibrancy was growing erratic with every match, and the club was still relying on an ageing strike force of Nicholas Anelka and Didier Drogba amidst Fernando Torres’ complete meltdown in form. At this juncture, Hazard’s tweet “I’m signing for the Champions League winner” came across as hugely encouraging but little did the Belgian knew that his dream would remain unfulfilled for the next seven years and he eventually would have to leave the club in search of the title that brought him here in the first place.
He had no reason to envision such a calamity either, for the club was getting every transfer right at the time. He wasn’t the only wonder kid that arrived at the Stamford Bridge that year. He was followed by Brazilian midfielder Oscar from Internacional, Victor Moses from Wigan Athletic, Marko Marin from Werder Bremen, and Cesar Azpilicuata from Marseille, three of whom would later go on to play significant roles in winning two titles for the club.
Though Hazard was just a part of the revamp, the mercurial winger soon became the centre of attention with his silky feet, unparalleled pace and world-class finishing ability. He helped Chelsea to win the Europa League on his debut season and although they finished third on the league table, Hazard had 13 goals and 24 assists to his name that year. What it essentially did was it gave the Blues a 22-year-old star revolving whom the club could build a team for posterity.
The club’s intention couldn’t really be questioned for they brought in Jose Mourinho next hoping to get back to their glory days, and in came a string of proven players. With the likes of Andre Schurrle and Samuel Eto’o playing alongside Hazard, Chelsea surely remained a work-in-progress in the league but as far as competing in Europe was concerned, they faltered time and again.
While they were knocked out by Atletico Madrid in 2013/14, they were ousted by Paris-Saint Germain in the very next season despite them winning the Premier League comfortably. The influx of quality players like Thibaut Courtois, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, and more did make the Blues a formidable side to beat but their ruthlessness was completely absent on the biggest stage.
With Mourinho all set and the squad looking invincible for once in over a decade, fans were hoping 2015/16 to be “the” season for the club. Hazard had ended the previous season with 19 goals and 13 assists and the other players couldn’t stop scoring either, with new star striker Costa scoring 20 in his debut season. Things were only expected to go up from here on, right? Wrong.
Just like the 2013/14 season, when Chelsea had seemingly revamped the club in the perfect manner with Hazard hitting everything right, this was a déjà vu and yet again, the club squandered their golden opportunity. But, the club’s heavy demand for continuous success, faulty transfer policies, and the rift between the players and the manager made Mourinho’s third season a disaster as the club finished at the 10th position out of Champions League spot.
Hazard quite infamously went a whopping 356 days without any goal whatsoever and ended the calamitous season with six goals and eight assists. Staring at a total hopelessness, Chelsea decided to bring in Italy’s Antonio Conte next season and a new three-at-the-back system was there to adapt for the Belgian now. Many important players were getting sidelined in the rejig with the likes of N’Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso becoming pivotal players now.
Chelsea went on to become champions again with Hazard scoring 16 times and providing five times this time. Though this wasn’t a vintage Hazard performance, but it was a large improvement from the previous season and with the club in the Champions League once now, the fans were dreaming again.
However, glory and controversy have gone hand in hand in Chelsea at least in the Hazard era and this time was no different. Reports of a rift between Costa and Conte were ripe and the striker made his way out next summer with the club broke the bank to get in Spanish star Alvaro Morata up front. The proven likes of Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater, Ross Barkley, Tiemoué Bakayoko, and many more came into the squad this time and as has been the case with Chelsea, too many cooks spoiled the broth again.
The likes of Morata and Bakayoko, who came from the then champions Real Madrid and AS Monaco, were absolute flops to begin with and to further complicate things, Premier League saw the rise of Liverpool after decades. With the Reds firing on all cylinders with Mohammad Salah and Sadio Mane, the league race had taken a different dimension altogether and Conte got it absolutely wrong on the European front as Chelsea were eliminated in the round of 16 yet again.
A fifth-place finish in the league meant Chelsea were to compete in the Europa League this season and pretty much like the sinking feeling in the club, Hazard’s hope of winning the elite European trophy had also faded away. Under Mauricio Sarri, Chelsea have finished in the top four again thereby qualifying in the Champions League and they would be facing Arsenal in the Europa League final.
Playing 351 games for Chelsea over seven years, Hazard has scored 108 goals and 91 assists, and the above evaluation clearly states that had the club not run into so many wrong turns and tried building a solid long-term squad around the winger instead of constant hacking and chopping every other season, Hazard could very well have been named alongside the likes of Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar during his prime. While at 29, the Belgian could still be having a good two years to his name, he realized it too late that his long-term love was the biggest obstacle between him and his dream.
Though they are only rumours that Hazard is getting unveiled by Real Madrid next week itself, one cannot really blame the player to gambling one last time for the silverware he has yearned for life.
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