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Eden Hazard to Real Madrid: Assessing his Chelsea legacy
Chelsea agree £88m fee with Real Madrid for Eden Hazard
Last Updated: 08/06/19 1:00pm
With Chelsea having agreed a fee with Real Madrid, Eden Hazard looks set to leave Stamford Bridge. He will leave as a legend.
Many Chelsea fans will not begrudge Eden Hazard's right to test himself elsewhere. Unusually in the modern game, there is an acceptance that even if this isn't the ideal timing for the club, it is the right time for the player.
Hazard wanted the perfect farewell and he got it with his man-of-the-match performance in the Europa League final win over Arsenal. Despite his contract situation, Chelsea are getting a huge fee for him too.
Hazard joined the reigning Champions League winners, a team packed with club legends. He will be leaving a club that feels in desperate need of another reboot. It was not always straightforward for him at Stamford Bridge, there were ups and downs, but along the way, he was about as much fun to watch as any player could be.
Hazard made the difficult look easy throughout his seven-year stay. Maurizio Sarri called him a genius and few would disagree. He was a favourite of the neutrals, surely the Premier League's most exciting player, and someone who always seemed to want to entertain.
"Often, a dribble brings more joy than a goal," Hazard once said. "That's when the people stand up to applaud. It's part of my reflex. People want the show, they pay for it. You're an actor. So let's bring them pleasure. When I start a match, I tell myself I have to dribble. Today isn't the day to score, it's the day to dribble. This is my main quality."
Hazard completed 909 dribbles in his Premier League career for Chelsea. To put that figure into context, the next man on the list managed 621 of them during the same period of time. He is a master at it, his quick feet exemplified by his wonderful goal against West Ham just last month, when he shimmied one way and swayed the other to evade his opponents.
As well as the remarkable balance required to do all that at speed, Hazard has shown such resilience. Right from the start of his Chelsea career he was targeted and was the victim of some pretty brutal challenges during the Community Shield opener against Manchester City back in 2012. There was more reckless stuff from Wigan on his Premier League debut.
Hazard just went with it, winning a penalty for his team that day. That was his default response. He kept getting up, as he did when Jose Mourinho's Manchester United once upended him five times in the opening 45 minutes. Often, opponents seemed to bounce off him as Francis Coquelin did when Hazard scored a stunning solo goal against Arsenal.
He was brave and he kept taking the knocks because that's what had to happen if he wanted to run at teams. Should he have been protected more? Almost certainly. But he still won 638 fouls in his seven seasons - again, the next man on the list was down at 450. Bruised and battered most weeks, he always seemed to play with a smile nevertheless.
That self-styled image as someone who just wanted to enjoy himself, coupled with that aforementioned comment about enjoying dribbling more than scoring goals, did add to a nagging suspicion that he could have been doing more. A victim of how easy he made it look, why wasn't he racking up the numbers of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?
It's a ridiculously high bar. In another era, he might have been held up as the greatest and Mourinho did have a point when he said that Hazard "plays in a country where there isn't a culture of the best player of the world". As a result, perceptions may change this summer if Madrid supporters have the chance to see what Chelsea have been seeing all this time.
He might even have found himself underrated. For sure, it felt absurd that he was omitted from the PFA team of the year this past season given that no Premier League player was involved in more goals. That statistic is a reminder that it was too easy to paint him as an entertainer who didn't have the desire to be decisive. He made a difference.
During these past seven seasons, only three players - all out-and-out strikers - have scored more Premier League goals, and only two players - both out-and-out playmakers - have provided more assists. It's not his fault he is not top of that second list. Nobody has created more chances.
He has done it in big games too, having been directly involved in at least seven goals against each of Chelsea's top-six opponents.
Some of them have been classics, going all the way back to his glorious curled finish into the top corner against Manchester United during Chelsea's FA Cup quarter-final win in his first season at the club. There have been a couple of crackers against Liverpool too, with his incisive individual effort deciding the Carabao Cup tie in Chelsea's favour early in the season.
Hazard scored all types of goals for the Blues - do not forget his 30-yard strike with his left foot against Stoke either - and while there were periods when he was not at his absolute peak, notably in that final season under Mourinho, he still delivered two titles for Chelsea. Others played their part but Hazard was named Chelsea player of the year both times.
For a player who loved to express himself, it was curious that the coaches he worked with at Stamford Bridge were largely pragmatic sorts. His first major trophy for the club came under Rafa Benitez and those titles were won under Mourinho and Antonio Conte, the latter at least freeing him of some defensive responsibilities in that very effective 3-4-3 formation.
Hazard has said that he has enjoyed himself under Sarri and this has been his best season in terms of combined goals and assists. It has won him a fourth player of the year award - breaking the club record of Frank Lampard. Again, to put this into context, Didier Drogba won the award once. John Terry and Gianfranco Zola won the award twice.
It reflects the fact that Hazard has been carrying this Chelsea team for some time now. Everything seems to be built around him, so of course, he will be impossible to replace, but at the age of 28, the time has come for him to see whether Madrid will fall in love with him too.