May 19, 2012
Perhaps our most sacred of sacred days in recent memory. A date, which shall live forever in our hearts. A date, which sent shockwaves through Europe and the world. A date, which signaled the end of an iconic era and brought forth the start of a new beginning.
”When I was in big games I was always reminding myself that when I was outside my parents’ house, putting the ball on the ground and thinking about scoring a penalty in the last minute of a game — I was in a world where I would imagine fans celebrating. These dreams were so powerful that when I had a chance to realise them, I knew being in a final was a lucky part of my career.”
- Didier Drogba, Source: BBC
Didier Drogba walked up to the penalty spot, a chorus of whistles and jeers in the Allianz Arena. Victory was supposed to be preordained for Bayern Munich in their own home, in their own stadium.
Drogba had already played the the hero half an hour earlier, with an unstoppable near-post header to level the game at one apiece. Cup finals are meant for the dramatics, and few had a penchant for greater drama than Didier. The man for the big occasion. The big man. The man, nay the living legend, with an expiring contract playing his final* game for Chelsea.
*(And then he came back for one more season after a couple years, to help us win another Premier League, just for the fun of it.)
In the penalty shootout, Chelsea fell behind early. Two stops by Petr Čech, from Ivica Olić and Bayern captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, brought Chelsea back and on the brink of the holy grail.
With the angelic chorus of the Champions League anthem seemingly echoing faintly in the distance, Drogba took a couple steps back, set himself, stepped up, kicked, and wheeled away. The ball went left, the goalkeeper went the other way. And everyone went nuts.
It was a fantastic end to a thrilling European campaign. Days after, Chelsea announced Drogba’s departure from the club. An icon, a hero, our legend was leaving.
A few more days later, the new era was set to begin.
I'm signing for the champion's league winner.— Eden Hazard (@hazardeden10) May 28, 2012
Hazard’s arrival represented the dawn of a new beginning. The ‘Old Guard’ was still mostly intact — Lampard, Cole, Terry, Ivanović, Mikel would start leaving one by one in the subsequent years — but the emphasis was increasingly on the first word. At just 21, combined with other young and talented arrivals that summer, including Oscar, Azpilicueta, and Victor Moses (not to mention all the youth signings around that time like Christensen and Musonda and T.Hazard and De Bruyne and Courtois and Lukaku), Eden Hazard was viewed as a cornerstone of Chelsea’s future. He was, after all, Europe’s most coveted young player. And now he was ours.
It didn’t take long for Hazard to make an impact and cement his place. In the 350+ games since, and just like Drogba before him, his play often dictated how well (or how badly) Chelsea performed, whether it was by winning penalties, creating chances, scoring goals, or just simply striking fear in defenders’ hearts.
“He’s a fantastic boy. A golden boy. The way he behaves, the way he respects people, even the way he respects opponents. I don’t think there is one opponent who can say: ‘He insulted me, he made fun of me, he played with his shoulder when he was winning 5-0, he did 20 bicycles [lollipops] in front of me’. He doesn’t cheat, he doesn’t dive. Nothing.”
-José Mourinho, Source: Guardian
Hazard at his best is truly a sight to behold. We have all been blessed watching him conjure magic, to make the impossible seem possible. At times you are left to wonder whether the ball really is tethered to him by a string.
Few players in today’s game are able to keep fans on the edge of their seats as well as he can. Few players inspire that sharp intake of breath with the same alarming regularity as he does when he gets on the ball. Often, that’s all opposition defenders can do as well. Hazard has that x-factor that the smallest percentage of top-tier players possess. He rightfully belongs in the conversation of the best players in the world today.
He has been a true professional and Chelsea’s best player for many years. He has kissed the badge, played his heart out, and carried the team through thick and thin. Managers have come and gone, implementing different systems and tactics, and Hazard has largely held up his end of the bargain giving his best for the club.
He’s won almost everything.
- 2x Premier League (‘14-’15, ‘16-’17)
- 1x Europa League (‘12-’13)
- 1x FA Cup (‘17-’18)
- 1x EFL Cup (‘14-’15).
He’s earned a multitude of individual honors as well ... to keep in his garage and give to his kids as toys. Classic Eden.
- 1x Premier League Player of the Season
- 4x PFA Premier League Team of the Year
- 1x PFA Premier League Young Player of the Year
- 1x PFA Premier League Player’s Player of the Year
- 4x Chelsea Player of the Year (record!)
- 2x Chelsea Player’s Player of the Year
Perhaps the one glaring knock on Hazard’s tenure with Chelsea will be the Champions League failures and the not entirely unrelated Real Madrid (and specifically Zinedine Zidane) cloud that’s been hanging over him since day one.
Alas, in recent times, rumors of his impending exit have grown from soft in-the-know whispers to full blown public comments. At this point, the only thing left to be said is the definitive “Goodbye”.
For years now, we have had front row seats to our own version of the ‘Will They or Won’t They’ trope. It began in earnest in 2015, when Chelsea were going through the “Mourinho Season” and Zidane replaced Rafa Benítez as Real Madrid head coach during the winter transfer window.
“After Messi and Ronaldo, Hazard is my favourite player. I love watching him because he is a player who creates things and it is often spectacular to see him play. Do I see him going to Real Madrid? Ask someone else. I love the player and that’s all.”
- Zinedine Zidane, Source: Independent
We’ve now endured three years of public courtship. Even Zidane’s sacking proved only a brief respite. And while no one apart from maybe Hazard truly knows if this is really the end, his recent comments suggest that it is indeed farewell.
We do have one more game to play, another European final, but it’s already a familiar goodbye.
May 9, 2019
Deadlock after 90+120 minutes. Penalties are looming against yet another Bundesliga side, this time at Stamford Bridge. Unser Stadion.
Eden Hazard had been quiet for large stretches of the match. But was the hero once already, providing the brilliant pass to set up Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s goal before Eintracht Frankfurt equalized in the second half. It was Hazard’s 16th assist of the season, giving him 35 combined goals and assists in all competitions, a remarkable number.
In the penalty shootout, Chelsea fell behind early. Two stops by Kepa Arrizabalaga, from Martin Hinteregger and Gonçalo Pacieência, brought Chelsea back and on the brink of the
holy grail Europa League final.
Up stepped Hazard. It was written in the
stars instant-on LED lights.
He took a couple steps back, set himself, stepped up, kicked, and wheeled away. The ball went left, the goalkeeper went the other way. One step beyoooond, blared the PA system, and the crowd went wild.
It had to be Eden, of course. He had been Chelsea’s main penalty kick-taker for many years, and misses had been very rare. For his career, his conversion rate stands at 87% for both club and country.
On the brink of a Europa Final. On the brink of farewell. What better way to say goodbye to Stamford Bridge than to clinch a massive European victory with the last kick of the last game there wearing Chelsea blue?
(And then he comes back for one more season after a couple years, to help us win another Premier League, just for the fun of it?)