Is he finally saying goodbye?

Tomorrow evening in Baku, in the UEFA Europa League Final against Arsenal, Eden Hazard will likely be playing for Chelsea for the very last time.

Chelsea will miss him. Chelsea fans will miss him. Just as important… English football is going to miss him.

FIVE major team honours including two Premier League titles.

THIRTY major individual honours including being named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year on four occasions and being the only four-time Chelsea Player of the Year.

Hazard dazzling the Stamford Bridge crowd (Photo – Reuters)

On his day, Eden Hazard is simply unstoppable. Easily the best to play in the Premier League during his time in London and the best of Hazard is the best of any player in European and world football. He has been without a shadow of a doubt one of the greatest players of this generation.

Without question.

It’s that type of talent that has Real Madrid making the Belgian international their number one transfer target this summer. And it appears that it will happen this summer, which Hazard himself is yearning for as putting on the famous Los Blancos shirt has been his lifelong dream.

Chelsea will not let him go lightly. Or cheaply for that matter. They will strike a hard bargain – especially with club Director Marina Granovskaia being notorious for doing so – and rightfully so with it being reported that the west London will not take anything less than £100million minimum for their star player.

With this in mind, the Blues know that they cannot leave it too late as it’s well known that Hazard is not interested in signing a new deal and only has 12 months left on his current contract. Letting a player go of his ability for nothing would be nothing short of criminal.

But would Chelsea actually do that? Not one to shy away from answering the tough questions in such circumstances as these – would he actually show the patience to stay for one more year at the insistence of the club?

“I don’t know,’ he says. That’s a difficult one to answer. A year is long, no?

It’s in the hands of the clubs. But there’s a lovely match to play. It’s not in my head right now: I stay, I go…”

Speaking of the ‘lovely’ match, Hazard is for now solely concentrating on solidifying his legacy at Stamford Bridge by winning the Europa League for a second time, which would (if they win) a full circle of sorts as he started his Chelsea career by winning the trophy back in 2013.

And with (potentially) his last kick at SW6 being the winning penalty in the shootout against Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals, would his final game in a Chelsea shirt ending in silverware be the perfect farewell?

“Yes,’ he says. ‘I just want to win the trophy. It does not matter if I score or not.

Of course I can put aside (the speculation). How long do you know me now? You know how I am. I stay in that mode: thinking about football. After the final we see what happens.”

As Hazard is asked about his stay at Chelsea coming to a possible end, he starts to be nostalgic and looks back to when his London journey started.

“When I came here I was a baby,’ he says. Now I am a big man. As a person I didn’t change. As a player, I score more goals and I have more experience. But I try to be the same as when I start.”

Hazard celebrating scoring against Manchester United in the League Cup in 2012 (Photo – Guardian)

With it being seven years to the day since he signed for Chelsea in a £32m transfer from Ligue 1 side Lille OSC, the 28-year-old recalls what it was like for the then 21-year-old when England’s finest were all clamouring for his signature, before choosing the (at the time) current European champions.

“I had a chance to sign for Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham… but it wasn’t the same when Chelsea became interested in me.

I spoke with the owner, with (then Chelsea boss) Roberto Di Matteo. I had Didier Drogba on the phone and Joe Cole (Hazard’s team-mate at Lille) told me it was the best club. 

I made the right decision.”

For Hazard and Chelsea, it definitely has been an interesting season, to say the least. From a statistical perspective, this has been Hazard’s best season with the Blues for goals and assists, with 19 and 16 respectively.

But at certain moments during the season, Chelsea lost confidence, form and showed signs of derailment – even though it thankfully ended on a positive note, with the Blues securing Champions League football for next season and potentially adding their sixth major European trophy to the cabinet.

With this in mind, Hazard was asked as to why Chelsea finished 26 points behind Manchester City. And his answers were very intriguing…

“I don’t think there is only one problem. When you look at the starting 11 of City they can play with 22 players. When you look at Chelsea I think we can’t play with 22 players.”

“It has been a 50-50 season. Sometimes happy, sometimes not. We finished in the top three, Carabao Cup final and now Europa League. If we win it, the season can be good. Not perfect, because you want to compete for the league and FA Cup.”

“Liverpool and City did not change the manager in the summer, we changed the manager. Sometimes you need time to adapt. But we can reach that level, we have the players and we just need to train together, we play together, lose together.”

Did those comments particularly highlight the problem that has always been apparent at Chelsea during Hazard’s time in that Eden wanted elite players around him to match his high ambition, most notably at European level as he’s not yet been able to win the Champions League.

Whilst it has been known for pretty much his entire time at Chelsea of his dream to play for Madrid – especially under the current manager Zinedine Zidane – maybe Hazard sees plying his skills at the Santiago Bernabeu as his best chance of capturing the biggest prize in club football.

Hazard acknowledging the travelling fans after the Premier League match between Leicester City and Chelsea (Photo – Getty Images)

But with Madrid going through a transitional period themselves, there are other teams in who are in a better position to succeed in Europe – which includes rival teams in England. For Hazard however, he would never consider playing for another club in the Premier League.

“No chance, (he says). I am a blue! It means a lot to me. I cannot play for another club in the country.

That’s why we have to win the Europa League. Otherwise everybody will have to hear (from Arsenal): ‘We have won, we have won’. For the fans it’s important. For the players it’s important. For the coach it’s important. We are confident.”

Playing under six managers, winning multiple team titles and individual awards, scoring some incredible goals in the hundred-plus he has netted and created moments of brilliance that will forever be remembered by himself and fans, Hazard has pretty much won it all and given his all in the last seven years.

And with his last words to the press before tomorrow’s game in Azerbaijan, Hazard reflected on his time at Chelsea, with it seeming likely it’ll be ending very soon.

“In the end, I played with top players. And if you look at my seven years at Chelsea we did something amazing together. We won trophies.”

WRITER’S THOUGHTS

Hazard is leaving. I personally don’t want him to but he will be moving to Real Madrid with my complete blessing. He has given his best footballing years in a Chelsea shirt and I feel very lucky that it happened that way.

As for the comments made by him, this is the nearest you’ll ever get to him actually saying he wants to leave.

Don’t be sad that he’s going, be happy that you got to see a player like him play for Chelsea.

Terry Sazio

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