On 28 May 2012 – a little more than a week after the biggest night in the history of Chelsea Football Club, a tweet was sent out by a certain 21-year-old Belgian playmaker announcing his intention to sign for the freshly minted UEFA Champions League winners. The battle for his signature had been a fierce one – leading English clubs were one-upping each other with their offers not only to Lille OSC but also the player.
In the end, Didier Drogba not only secured Chelsea a spot among the genuinely elite European clubs with his title-winning penalty in Munich but also helped the club seal the deal for the brightest young talent in Europe. A magical player, an expert dribbler, a strong finisher – adjectives were used in abundance for the Belgian but his cheeky announcement also raised eyebrows – his supreme confidence in his abilities unfairly adjudged as showboating.
I'm signing for the champion's league winner.
— Eden Hazard (@hazardeden10) May 28, 2012
Eden Hazard arrived in London as a 21-year-old lad, humorous but soft-spoken, still growing as a player yet not afraid to take on humongous responsibilities. When Hazard arrived in England, the Premier League was booming in all aspects, but the mantle left behind by Cristiano Ronaldo was still empty. There was no one miles above the rest in the league – there were a number of superstars worth their names, but no singular player who could be undoubtedly deemed as the best player in the league. Hazard promptly seized the throne.
Hazard's beginnings in the league were modest, but soon he was floating among the clouds. Be it winning a game through a correctly-timed goal or playing a pivotal role in the build-up of attacking play, Hazard was doing it all. A genuinely majestic footballer when the ball is at his feet, Hazard has the rare ability to pause time and rev up the tempo of the game simultaneously. One of the most technically astute footballers of all times, Hazard may not have notched up too many records in the statistical spectrum, but he has awed fans and critics alike with his performances season after season.
The club signed Hazard to make him the fulcrum of the Chelsea side, building a squad around him so that the only club in London to win the Champions League could improve upon a decade of success. However, a slew of poor decisions from the club hierarchy meant the onus of carrying the team fell solely upon Hazard's shoulders. As the club went through as many as six managers (excluding Steve Holland who took charge for one match) during Hazard's seven seasons in London, the Belgian adapted to a variety of systems, always putting his best foot forward irrespective of his manager's ideology.
To say the occasional blips in form were absent would be a sheer lie, for Hazard struggled with his form during Mourinho's infamous third season at the club and Antonio Conte's ill-tempered second season in England. Yet, Hazard matured as a player, often filling the leadership void in Chelsea, improving the quality of his game every consecutive season. Such has been Hazard's influence at the club that the winger's displays were completely synonymous with Chelsea's performance in a match – a sensational ninety minutes from Stamford Bridge's favourite Belgian often ensuring an overall scintillating performance from the Blues.
Forwards would come and go, mediocrity would be a consistent theme among his fellow attacking midfielders, yet Hazard would shine week in and week out. As the seasons progressed, Hazard's all-round game developed as well. Finesse was never an issue for the Belgian, but he did become a more proactive shooter, adding elements which only contributed to his aura. Never much of a defender, Hazard constantly drew criticism when Chelsea shipped in goals, but his work-rate was an absolute asset for the club. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Hazard was one of the stars in seasons Chelsea were brilliant and went on to lift the Premier League trophy, but even in seasons when the London club would falter, the rest of the team would look up to the petite Belgian for inspiration.
Not only has the young talent plying his trade in the quaint city of Lille grown up to be a man respected by his peers, but he has also made a name for himself and his country in the international arena – Hazard's 100th cap for the Belgian National Team on the eve of the announcement of his transfer adding yet another feather in his cap.
Off the field, Hazard has acted as the perfect role model for kids and budding footballers. Never in the news for any controversy, always the modicum of a perfect professional, Hazard is a bonafide family man. Known for his excellent sense of humour, Hazard is widely revered by Chelsea supporters as well as his teammates for his down-to-earth nature, a trait which might be a stark contrast in the cacophonic cauldron of Santiago Bernabeu. But if Luka Modric is any indication, Hazard's quiet essence might be a huge positive to win over the unforgiving Real Madrid fans if he can produce the goods on the field.
Hazard has been an excellent ambassador for Chelsea and the English Premier League as a whole. Ever since he joined the club, rumours have swirled around an impending move to Real Madrid, but it never distracted Hazard from his game. Always the upstanding professional, he put in his all for London's finest – in an era when footballers tend to force moves away for their interests, Hazard is the rare gem who devoted another season to Chelsea after a brilliant World Cup in 2018, just because the club was devoid of Champions League football.
In an era when fans are often harsh on players looking to move to a bigger club, the adulation that has been showered upon Hazard from Chelsea supporters this past month is as much the Belgian's credit as it is of the fans. Hazard has been an absolute class act in the truest sense of the word, and it is hardly a surprise that the club and its supporters have a sense of pride attached to the Belgian realizing his childhood dream by signing for a Real Madrid team led by Zinedine Zidane.
A two-times English Premier League and a two-times UEFA Europa League champion, Hazard leaves Chelsea having won everything but "the big-eared trophy" – more of a testament to Chelsea's inconsistency this past decade rather than his own misgivings. Chelsea, as a club, have undergone a huge setback though, especially with the transfer ban looming on the horizon and Sarri’' uncertain future contributing to their woes.
Come next season, Chelsea will need to find a new inspiration, a different person to influence their attacking style – Hazard may be gone but chants to his name will reverberate around Stamford Bridge for decades to come, for the Belgian came as a rookie, but leaves as a legend.
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Updated Date: Jun 09, 2019 17:04:02 IST