The quality of football in most leagues across the world can be represented best by a handful of players who somehow become synonymous with the league they have been playing in. Think of La Liga and you get an image of Lionel Messi in your head. One year back, Ronaldo’s image would have accompanied the Argentine’s image. Similarly, when someone mentions the English Premier League, or when a video commercial of the EPL airs anywhere in the world, one of the faces that are sure to feature is that of Eden Hazard.
Well, not for long, as the Belgian has decided to move on from Chelsea to Real Madrid after seven seasons at Stamford Bridge. Hazard will be unveiled at the Bernabeu on June 13, subject to a successful medical, having completed a move that will enrich Chelsea by £89 million upfront (with a possibility of earning a further £60 million in performance and appearance related clauses).
Hazard: Chelsea’s Talisman
When Eden Hazard joined Chelsea, the Blues had just beaten the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich to win the UEFA Champions League. But if anyone feared that Hazard will be awed by the likes of Drogba, Lampard, and Terry, they needn’t have worried. The league journey that started with two assists on debut led Hazard to become the third-highest contributor of goals for the Blues in the Premier League – his 85 goals and 54 assists are only surpassed by Lampard’s 147 goals and 90 assists and Drogba’s 104 goals and 55 assists in the league.
Hazard featured in 352 games for the Blues in all competitions and scored in 91 of them, scoring a total of 110 goals. Of those 91 games, Chelsea won 71 (78%) and lost only six. 34 of those 110 goals were “game-winning” goals (gave his team the lead or helped them stay in the lead). In the Premier League, Hazard’s effect was even more pronounced. He scored 85 goals in 69 Premier League appearances and 29 of those goals were game-winning goals. This excludes the impact of his equalizers like the one he scored against Liverpool in the season just gone by or the impact of his 54 assists (how many of them were game-winning).
Hazard won a total of six titles with Chelsea – two Premier Leagues, two Europa Leagues, the FA Cup, and the League Cup. It does not need too much analysis to show that Hazard has been the most important and influential player for Chelsea. When he scored, Chelsea won, when he faltered – like his dip in form in 2015-16, Chelsea faltered. At his peak during his stint at the Stamford Bridge, many fans and journalists brought up comparisons with Messi and Ronaldo. Those comparisons, while objectively outlandish, stemmed from how the Belgian was as important to the Blues as Messi is to Barcelona or as Ronaldo was to Real Madrid.
Letting your talisman go should count as an audacious decision, even in this era where players can generally hold their clubs hostage to their will. Recent history is replete with examples of teams faltering badly after selling their most influential players. From Liverpool struggling (twice) after selling Torres first and then Suarez, to Arsenal’s woes after losing van Persie and to most recently – Real Madrid struggling in this season after parting ways with Ronaldo, there are several examples.
On top of that talisman loss, Chelsea are restricted (at least as of writing this) in the transfer market, because of their transfer ban till January 2020. This means that all that cash that Hazard’s move has brought in cannot be used this summer. So, Maurizio Sarri or his replacement, should Sarri leave for Juventus, have to fill the yawning gap left by Hazard from within the ranks. It would perhaps make an extremely tough challenge in Football Manager. In real life, it would be nearly impossible.
Whatever happens to Chelsea, Roman Abramovich has the resources to lift them back up. But, for the Premier League, Hazard’s move to Spain is a loss of an iconic player. Real Madrid of today might be a far cry from the team of super-galacticos they once were. But in Eden Hazard, they have brought in a veritable galactico for sure.