This is the third instalment in Football FanCast’s Legacies series, which pays tribute to those players and managers who leave a compelling story behind as they move on to pastures new.
The Belgian forward is undisputedly one of the most talented players in the world, so it’s no surprise that Los Blancos were willing to pay a reported £130m to secure his services when he had just one year remaining on his Chelsea contract.
Hazard arrived with bags of potential and a reputation that surpassed most in his age bracket. Since he touched down in London from Lille, there have been highs and lows, a multitude of different managers watching over him, heartbreak and success, goals ranging from routine to extraordinary, and an unsurprising barrage of transfer rumours to accompany his ascension to stardom.
But how will Hazard be remembered and what is his overarching Chelsea legacy?
Hazard’s announcement of his transfer on Twitter perhaps highlighted his immaturity at that age as he played up to the coverage and popularity his transfer saga was gaining.
The player himself admitted that the Blues were engaged in a battle for his signature with Manchester United, but it was the then Champions League winners who got the deal over the line.
The forward was introduced to a typical Chelsea season very quickly as trigger-happy Roman Abramovich sacked European Cup winner Roberto Di Matteo before his successor, Rafael Benitez, ultimately led the club to Europa League glory.
Jose Mourinho’s return to the club induced another level from Hazard during their title-winning campaign in 2014-15. He registered 14 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League and averaged at 2.29 points per game, starring in a season which saw him play more league minutes than in any other Chelsea campaign.
Hazard went on to win the title again under Antonio Conte, similarly finding some of his best form in the 3-4-3 formation, and also managing to register 17 goals and seven assists in all competitions.
Maurizio Sarri then arrived at the Bridge with the Belgian an established star in world football, and it’s under the Italian that his goal contribution return spiked, with a tally of 31 – 16 goals and 15 assists – marking his best league return.
Hazard’s trophy cabinet filled up significantly during his Chelsea days, and the two Premier League titles will surely be the pick of the bunch. Though in terms of his overall individual numbers, there’s a lot to admire in the forward as well.
During his time in the Premier League, the Belgian tallied 139 goal contributions in 245 appearances at a staggering rate of one contribution per 141 minutes played. The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Chelsea’s turbulent history and tendency to play as a European powerhouse one season and an erratic underachiever the next.
In his final season as the club, Hazard was in his most clinical form and it’s no coincidence it arrived under a manager in Sarri who typically promotes a fluid approach. Under Mourinho and Conte, Chelsea’s number 10 often had to compromise for a pair of pragmatic managers who typically champion structure and defensive awareness over attacking expression.
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With some players there are simply just too many to count. Hazard’s greatest moments were not only the trophy wins and great teams he was part of but more the sheer moments of genius that left defenders searching for their own legs in a bamboozled state of embarrassment, tantalising and stunning the supporters who regularly spend hundreds of pounds just to see the wizard working his magic in the flesh.
This happened almost every time he got the ball in a one on one situation, forcing fans to creep forward to the edge of their seats, expecting to be surprised yet still remaining dumbfounded when their expectations became reality.
If we’re singling out just a few in particular, then you have to talk about his wonderful solo effort against Arsenal in which Francis Coquelin made two attempts to win the ball back only to drop to the ground each time as Hazard danced through the Gunners’ defence.
He teased West Ham defenders just a few months ago with an unforgettable dribbling sequence, slicing through with poise, balance and ethereal quick-feet before converting with a thumping drive.
In fact he did a similar thing to Liverpool in the 2018/19 instalment of the Carabao Cup, turning past Naby Keita before nutmegging Alberto Moreno and drilling the ball into the far corner of the net.
The man has delivered so many moments of magic and Chelsea memories will perennially store these in a safe place, never to be forgotten or taken for granted.
Hazard may have taught the Blues’ hierarchy a valuable lesson though, one which perhaps shapes his legacy more than his stats and golden moments do.
The lesson being that they were dependent on the recently departed hero’s verve and creativity and they must avoid falling into that trap moving forward.
Chelsea’s season may well have withered away into nothing these past few months had it not been for their star man’s performances helping them through and that is a prescient warning for the future.
It would be far too dismissive of other stars to call the west London outfit a one-man-band but there was certainly a severe over-reliance on Madrid’s shiny new Galactico, and with a looming transfer ban expected to restrict Chelsea of any incoming signings this summer, the club could yet pay a short-term price for relying so heavily on their number 10.
There’s a plethora of big names who roll off the tongue when speaking of Chelsea greats, but Hazard may well be the best of them all.
John Terry and Frank Lampard will rise above him in the debate for the greatest of all time, but in terms of sheer talent and ability it’s impossible to overlook the Belgian.
His status among Chelsea fans is secure – he’s undoubtedly a club legend.