PSG have developed a bizarre appetite for Chelsea players over the last few months. The French champions have all-but confirmed a world-record fee for defender David Luiz, and according to the Metro are now preparing a last-ditch £68million bid to convince Blues star Eden Hazard into making the same journey from west London to Paris.
But fear not Stamford Bridge faithful, the 23 year-old won’t be leaving Chelsea this summer. The Blues are one of the most competitive sides in the most competitive top flight in world football, managed by one of Europe’s leading managers – Hazard knows he’s onto a good thing. As the final pieces of the jigsaw, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, fall into place this summer, Jose Mourinho’s men are more than ready to challenge effectively on all fronts next season, with Hazard taking a starring role as the starting XI’s most freely-licensed creative player.
Furthermore, hammering the final nail into the Parisians’ proverbial transfer coffin, the Belgium international has announced this week that he will take his favoured No.10 jersey at Stamford Bridge next season, having been vacated by Manchester United-bound Juan Mata in January.
Eventually however, Hazard’s Chelsea career will come to an end – and not in a decade-spanning, we-stayed-together-as-long-as-we-could, Frank Lampard kind of way. The Belgium prodigy is a world-class talent in the making and the Blues would love to hold onto him, but Chelsea is not Hazard’s ultimate calling in the beautiful game.
Like Hazard, Mourinho knows when he’s onto a winner. Although Juan Mata was seen as expendable by the Portuguese for his lack of defensive work-rate, Hazard’s shared lapsed views on defending have been on the whole accommodated for.
Admittedly, the Belgian has shown a considerably greater desire to track back under Mourinho in comparison to last season, but his harrowing absence in Chelsea’s own penalty box against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, allowing right-back Juanfran to venture forward unmarked and play pivotal roles in two goals, highlighted how Hazard will never be a conventional Mourinho player.
That level of defensive awareness and organisation is important at Champions League level but you can hardly blame the PFA’s Young Player of the Year – as he remarked in May, at the other end of the pitch, he’s been ‘asked to do it all himself’ far too often this season. At times, the Blues have largely resembled nine defenders, a goal-shy striker and Eden Hazard.
That is the crux of the tightrope relationship between the forward and his manager that I believe will eventually become overstrained. The planned acquisition of Cesc Fabregas suggests Mourinho is prepared to evolve Chelsea’s counter-attacking, anti-football style into something more commendable next season, but even so, defensive stability and committed displays will remain at the heart of the Blues’ ideology.
Hazard however, isn’t that type of player. Rather than making covering runs or marking opposition full-backs out of the game, his commitment comes to light in the final third, taking on the responsibility to score and create goals. The enormous pressure to consistently produce in that role should never be understated, as if it is somehow a more cowardly forte than being a 6 foot 5 centre-back.
At top level, top players are expected to both – there is little room for passengers in leading Premier League sides. But once again, Hazard is a different breed; he is a Cristiano Ronaldo, a Frank Ribery, a Lionel Messi of the future, and no matter how relentlessly Mourinho attempts to drill into him the finer arts of defending, the 23 year-old will know that it’s not what he was born to do on a football pitch.
Resultantly, I believe it will take a move away from Stamford Bridge, or at least Mourinho, for Hazard to realise his final calling. At Chelsea, he will always have a starring role, but he will never be the centre-stage star – the man the team is made around, the man the rest of the team accepts will work less tenaciously to get the ball back, providing he holds up his end of the bargain in the final third.
I’m not suggesting Hazard will quit Stamford Bridge next summer or even the year after – for all I know, he could still be with the Blues in four or five years’ time. But eventually, Real Madrid and Barcelona will come calling – two of a rare few clubs that can challenge for Europe’s top silverware whilst offering Hazard that unique status as a star attacking entity without any defensive responsibilities.
Although I am sure the forward adores Chelsea, the fanbase and Mourinho, I feel equally confident in him being unable to resist the allure of answering his ultimate calling as an unshackled, world-class creator and goalscorer. The two likeliest destinations to do so remain the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu.