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The perfect goodbye - Eden Hazard brought the curtain down on an outstanding Premier League career with Chelsea by leading the Blues to Europa League glory in Baku
With two goals and an assist, Hazard helped secure Chelsea the Europa League title in his final game for the club. Relive last season’s final between Chelsea and Arsenal on Europa League Throwback on BT Sport 2 and online from 8pm tonight.
Once, twice, three times BT Sport’s Darrell Currie asked the question.
Eden Hazard evaded the first with an uncomfortable laugh, admitted in the second that he’d made his decision and in the third conceded: “I think this is goodbye”.
A gigantic, glowing, circular structure on the cusp of the Caspian Sea, Baku’s Olympic Stadium was an unorthodox stage for Hazard’s final act in a Chelsea shirt.
Yet the occasion befitted a player regarded by many as the best in the division. Two goals and an assist in the Europa League final saw Hazard sign off in style as Chelsea thrashed Arsenal 4-1 in the Azerbaijani capital.
Such was his impact on the night, UEFA felt compelled to award Hazard the Europa League Player of the Season despite the Belgian featuring in just eight of Chelsea’s 15 matches in the competition and starting only four.
You can relive the action on an unforgettable night of action exclusively live on BT Sport 2 and across our digital platforms from 8pm tonight as the home of European football revisits last season’s final - where two London rivals battled it out for glory 5,000km from home.
After confirming Chelsea fan’s worst fears, Hazard allowed himself a moment to reflect on his body of work since arriving in west London back in 2012.
“My dream was to play in the Premier League and I did this for seven years at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Maybe now it’s time for a new challenge.” It was a succinct way to summarise the career of one of the finest imports of the Premier League era.
Hazard departed these shores for Real Madrid having won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and two Europa League titles – the second claimed in his final match.
At 28 he had developed from a precocious talent, a tricky winger signed for £32million from Lille, into perhaps the most complete attacking player in Europe outside of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
He was at his peak and perhaps – based on his struggles in an injury-hit first season at Real Madrid – had already peaked.
In his final season at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea had leant on their talisman more heavily than ever before.
With 16 goals and 15 assists, Hazard was involved in more goals than anyone else in the division. No other player played a role in a higher proportion of their team’s goals – with Hazard contributing to 49% of Chelsea’s total of 63.
The 2015/16 campaign - where Chelsea’s entire squad faced accusations of downing tools as Jose Mourinho was dismissed – aside, it was the culmination in a year-on-year progression for Hazard.
Hazard took a little time to adapt but soon got up to speed and would record 13 goals and 11 assists in all competitions.
When Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge in 2013 he implemented a more rigid 4-2-3-1 system and challenged Hazard to deliver even more in the final third. He responded.
Hazard began going at opponents more and more, attempting 6 dribbles a game in 2013/14 and 7.4 in 2014/15 as Chelsea won the Premier League.
After netting twice in a 4-3 win away at Sunderland on December 2013, opposition manager Gus Poyet said he’d “never come up against anything like that as a manager”.
It signalled the start of a purple patch. Hazard netted the winner in the next match against Swansea then scored from 25 yards against Liverpool. His first hat-trick soon followed in a 3-0 win over Newcastle.
Two months after Poyet’s comments Mourinho referred to his winger as the “best young player in the world”.
Fast-forward another 12 months and following a winner and man-of-the-match performance against Manchester United – his 18th of the season - Mourinho made an advance on his claims. “He’s one of the top three players in the world”.
Seven days later he was awarded PFA Player of the Year and the following week he scored the winning goal against Crystal Palace as Chelsea claimed their first title since 2010.
He’d been fouled for the penalty, stepped up to take it himself and reacted first to Julian Speroni’s save to nod in the rebound. Hazard was doing it all.
Like most of his team-mates, Hazard’s form disintegrated at Chelsea in 2015/16. In a meek surrendering of their title, Chelsea slumped to a 10th-placed finish and their main man mustered just four Premier League goals.
“It was an ugly season,” Hazard would later recall.
Out went Mourinho and, after Guus Hiddink’s spell as caretaker, in came Antonio Conte and a new system and Hazard was rejuvenated.
That season saw Hazard claim three consecutive man-of-the-match awards as Conte’s men claimed the Premier League title in style. A year later and he lifted his first FA Cup, scoring the only goal of the game against Manchester United from the spot having won the penalty himself.
The 21-year-old had joined a Chelsea squad packed with proven leaders, senior players who’d played a key role in title glories of the past under Roman Abramovich’s tenure.
But season by season the big names came and went. By the start of the 2018/19 campaign Chelsea no longer had Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas to rely upon to lead their side.
It was a typically combustible campaign in west London. Maurizio Sarri, an unpopular replacement for the much-loved Antonio Conte, was scapegoated from the start by the Chelsea supporters.
With fans baying for the Italian’s blood, Sarri lost his cool following a league defeat to Arsenal and blamed his players’ lack of determination and desire for the loss claiming they were difficult to motivate.
A month later and he had a mutiny on his hands in the dying moments in extra time of the EFL Cup final against Manchester City. Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga openly defied his manager’s call for him to be substituted, waving Sarri away and refusing to leave the pitch.
The final went to a penalty shootout and Raheem Sterling slotted home the winning spot-kick, Hazard having scored his via a delightful Panenka straight down the middle.
With the caveat that the circus around Hazard’s inevitable departure also provided further distractions, the Belgian managed to drag a dysfunctional Chelsea side to Europa League glory and a third-placed finish. It was perhaps the crowning achievement of his career.
Hazard was injured for the 2013 Europa League final in Amsterdam and arrived a couple of months after Chelsea’s dramatic 2012 Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich, Baku was his only European final in Chelsea colours.
He seized his moment, teeing up Pedro to put Chelsea 2-0 up, slotting home a penalty to make it 3-0 and completing the route with a routine finish to make it 4-1.
As BT Sport’s Currie signed off the interview: “If it is goodbye, what a way to go out.”