It’s the day every football fan dreads. When your team’s star player, the talisman, the one who makes a difference decides to move on to pastures new. They’ll talk about a new challenge, a fresh start, a new chapter in their careers and you’re supposed to understand where they’re coming from and respect their decision.
It’s a decision that’s hard to accept and even harder to accept when that player is Eden Hazard. Only time will tell how he’s viewed alongside some of the Premier League attacking greats such as Bergkamp, Cantona, Ronaldo, Henry or another Chelsea ‘alumni’ in Gianfranco Zola.
But Blues fans have already made their minds up: Hazard was a special player who over the course of seven seasons was more than just a key cog in Chelsea’s attack: very often he was Chelsea’s attack. How do you replace the irreplaceable?
By today’s standards, seven years at the same club is a long time. As a neutral, one can see why Hazard wanted to try something new and Chelsea aren’t exactly the Premier League favourites and Champions League contenders they were in yesteryear. But once Hazard decided to call it a day at Stamford Bridge, why was it a case of ‘Real or nothing’?
There’s something almost magical about Real Madrid that can’t be explained in words. When the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric or Gareth Bale all left the Premier League to play their football at the Santiago Bernabeu they didn’t speak about the fans, the stadium, the history and much less the money on offer.
It was almost like there’s something mythical about the team that you simply can’t say ‘no’ to. More than that, it’s almost like a sense of destiny. Like it was written in the stars that one day you’d play for Real and that it was something you couldn’t control.
In Hazard’s case, there’s a little more to it than that. He’s a self-confessed fan of Zinedine Zidane the player (aren’t we all?) and by extension, of Zizou the manager. He wants to play for his idol, he wants to add something to his game that only a genius can teach him. In many ways, the transfer was inevitable.
What are Chelsea Going to Miss?
Football doesn’t work like cricket where numbers tell their own story. Patrick Vieira for example was one of the greatest-ever players to grace the Premier League but you’d be wasting your time checking his numbers for goals, assists and completed passes; he simply wasn’t that sort of player and numbers don’t begin to sum up his contribution to the team.
It’s a little different for an attacker though, so we’ll go through Hazard’s numbers anyway.
Here is his Premier League goals and assists tally since he joined Chelsea back in June 2012. (goals first/assists second).
Let us do the maths for you there. That’s 85 Premier League goals and 61 Premier League assists since he joined the Blues. For those who like to keep tabs on these sort of things, that makes him Chelsea’s third highest scorer in the Premier League era. Only Frank Lampard (147) and Didier Drogba (104) got more. But look at how long it took them to get there. Lampard played at Stamford Bridge for thirteen seasons, Drogba for nine. Had Hazard stuck around for a few more seasons, you’d think he would have overtaken the pair of them.
More numbers? You got it. Hazard scored a total of 110 goals in all competitions with a Chelsea shirt on from 352 appearances, netting in 91 different games. And they were hardly consolation goals. In those 91 games where he scored, Chelsea went on to win 71 (78%) of them, losing just six.
His last-ever game for the club was the Europa League final against Arsenal. He scored two, assisted one and walked away with the man-of-the-match award. Typical Hazard.
Hazard’s Chelsea career though went well beyond the numbers. Since his arrival, some seasons they had potent attacks with the likes of Diego Costa, Pedro and Willian in fine form and it all clicked into gear. At other times, Chelsea were a side of 10 workmanlike and reliable players with Hazard the Joker of the pack, a free-spirited play-maker who was the only player on the pitch with a blue shirt on who you thought could create something out of nothing.
In football, it’s not just about winning games. It’s also about putting bums on seats and watching fans arise from those seats when a particular player is on the ball. Hazard was one of those.
When Chelsea won the league under Jose Mourinho in 2014-15, in his second season at the club, Hazard carried the team. At the business end of the season (from March onwards) he scored a winning goal against West Ham (1-0), Hull (3-2), Stoke (2-1), Man Utd (1-0) and Crystal Palace (1-0).
He was voted PFA Player of the Year and unsurprisingly, Chelsea’s Player of the Year, for a second season running. One of only four players to achieve that.
Replacing the Irreplaceable
The exit of Hazard to Real is a double whammy to Chelsea. Not only have they lost him but they can’t replace him. Not just in the sense you can’t replace a player of that calibre but literally as well; their ongoing transfer ban means they can’t buy any players at all for the next two transfer windows. Their appeal has already been overturned by FIFA and as of yet, a further appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport hasn’t been filed so we have to assume there won’t be any change to the original decision.
How Chelsea go about filling the huge Hazard-shaped hole depends largely on who is in charge next season and what system they decide to go with.
One option is to ask Ross Barkley to do his best impression of Hazard. Barkley is admittedly considerably taller and more muscular and Hazard is quicker both with and without the ball but their upper body strength, preference for cutting inside from the left and love of running with the ball at their feet draws comparisons. But with just three league goals to his name since joining the Blues back in January 2018, the Chelsea faithful can’t expect miracles from the former Everton man.
Chelsea’s Loss, Hudson-Odoi’s Gain?
An alternative is to gamble on the pace and trickery of youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi. More of a traditional winger than Hazard, the 20 year-old is being closely monitored by Bayern Munich no less but having already lost Hazard, Chelsea will surely nip that one in the bud as soon as possible with the Belgian’s exit possibly providing Hudson-Odoi with the game time he’s been craving.
Those who enjoy sports betting at Marathonbet will have taken note of Chelsea’s price of 20/1 to win the Premier League next season. What’s more worrying: the price itself or the fact that they’re just fifth favourites? It goes some way to showing just what a loss Hazard will be.