Humans are programmed to look for patterns, for connections, for narratives. That truism seems to be especially the case in sports, where we craft stories and meaning out of people playing a game and getting paid for it. There’s deeper meaning amidst all the cliches, overreactions, and banal repetition!
That’s not to say that such things are wrong or incorrect. They help us talk about and analyze the events unfolding in front of our eyes, they help us create a shared experience, they even help define our place in society. They can provide a frame of reference, perhaps even a cultural touchstone. They do have meaning by virtue of us assigning meaning to it.
Football may be unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it is the most important of those unimportant things, as the saying goes. And at Chelsea, this most important unimportant thing is experiencing the end of an era.
Eden Hazard was the last of the MaZaCar, and he’s now gone.
When Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012 with Didier Drogba’s last* kick of the ball for the club, it was the end of the Old Guard. They didn’t all leave at once of course, and Drogba even returned for a season a couple years later, but for all intents and purposes, it closed the chapter that began with Mourinho’s hiring in 2004.
In its wake, there was the start of something new. For lack of a more established term, let’s call it the MaZaCar, even though I never particularly cared for that name and that exact combination — MAta, haZArd, osCAR — only lasted a brief while in their full whirly-burly glory. Di Matteo, the ultimate pragmatist in 2012, rolled the dice and let all three loose, but was sacked before he could make it work in the real world. But that idea, of the young and the new and the exciting, prevailed and shone through all that was to follow — even if by the end only Hazard was left to carry the torch.
“It was a time when our club were creating trends because of how we played, and how effective we were in attack.”
-Oscar; source: AS
Mata left in January 2014, Oscar in January 2017. Mata’s de facto replacement, Cesc Fàbregas left in January 2019. Oscar with more hair, Willian, is still around, but Hazard’s non-January departure is the true end, just as his non-January arrival was the true beginning seven years ago.
Eden’s now off to Madrid, where he starts a new era for himself and a Galáctico 3.0 Era for his new club.
“I’m sure he will be very dangerous at Real Madrid because he generates many chances. We made a fantastic group of good professionals who were friends off the pitch and that was reflected in the matches.”
-Oscar; source: AS
For Chelsea the future is a lot less certain, from the top on down.
We could of course look back in a few years and confirm that just like the end of the Old Guard was the beginning of the MaZaCar, the end of MaZaCar will be the start of something new. Like in 2012, Chelsea are stocked with talented youth ready to step up on the grandest of stages. Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek — CCR? — could be the next acronym to dominate the Chelsea headlines. The next manager could be a club legend. We might even have a plan!
Hazard’s arrival in 2012 felt like a seismic shift. His departure was less earth-shattering only because of its drawn out nature. But the ground has shifted under our feet once again, greased in part by the transfer ban as well. We might call it a rebuild, but that sounds boring.
So, here’s to Eden Hazard, the Last of the MaZaCar.
And here’s to whatever comes next.