Quick, who is the only player in Europe with 15-plus goals and assists in league play this season? If you guessed Lionel Messi, congratulations, you are as predictable as a Gonzalo Higuaín miss—and also wrong. The only player to manage that feat this year is Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, a one-man hurricane for a team that, miraculously, clinched a Champions League spot this weekend after a thorough 3-0 dismantling of Watford.
Though Hazard didn’t get on the scoresheet himself on Sunday, he was the dominant figure in what was a must-win game for Chelsea. He had two assists from crosses, to Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 48th minute and to David Luiz three minutes later. On top of those key events, Hazard was an all around demon in the final third against Watford. He completed 36 of 38 attacking third passes, and created five total chances on the night:
Hazard has been throwing down performances like this all season long. Since the World Cup, Hazard has been one of the best five or so players in the world during what has been statistically his best individual season in England. After leading Belgium to a third-place finish in Russia, Hazard re-joined Chelsea amid rumors that it would be his final season in London, with Real Madrid beckoning. Because Madrid’s first post-Ronaldo campaign has been unrelentingly terrible, the rumors have only grown louder that Chelsea’s talisman will make the swap this summer.
Hazard himself has done nothing to quiet the rumors, as is the cheeky forward’s wont. Case in point: fans caught up with him after the Watford game and begged him to stay at Chelsea. (Aside from not wanting to lose their best player, fans also have a potential transfer ban looming, which would give Chelsea no way to even come close to replacing Hazard, Christian Pulisic be damned). Hazard responded with a smirk and a shake of his head:
Chelsea fans are right to be sad about what looks like Hazard’s imminent departure, but they can’t in good conscience fault the man for wanting to leave. For years now, Hazard has been too good for Chelsea. When he joined the club, after their shock Champions League title in 2012, the Blues were in the latter stages of the best stretch in the club’s history. Behind legends like Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, and John Terry, the Chelsea of the first decade of Roman Abramovich’s ownership tenure were consistently one of the very best clubs in all of Europe.
Hazard was supposed to lead the club into its next phase, as the new talisman taking up the mantle of the proceeding generation. Hazard has more or less held up his end of the bargain, leading the club to two Premier League titles and five top-four finishes in seven seasons. The team around him has mostly let him down, though.
With Financial Fair Play regulations curtailing how much cash Abramovich could pump into the club to keep the team great, and Abramovich’s seemingly waning interest in shoveling money into the team, Chelsea have either not been able or willing to shell out the kinds of money they spent in earlier years. That, coupled with the rising competitiveness of an EPL where Chelsea are no longer the richest guys in the league, has meant Hazard has only rarely been surrounded with complementary talents up to his own world-class standard. For example, the current Chelsea roster has exactly one other player (Kanté, N’Golo) a Real Madrid-quality team would covet.
This season especially has required a Herculean effort on Hazard’s part for the team to reach its objectives. Alongside a rotating cast of clowns at the center forward position (Olivier Giroud here and there, an Álvaro Morata doing his best Fernando Torres impression for first half a season, Higuaín’s washed ass for the back half) and the aging talents of Pedro and Willian on the opposite wing, Hazard has had very little help in attack. Still, he has racked up those 16 goals and 15 assists, sealed his side a Champions League place, and has them on the verge of Europa League glory (Chelsea are favorites to reach the final, where they will likely meet Arsenal). With the team relying so heavily on him and him dragging the club to all the success they could’ve reasonably hoped for, Hazard has earned a move to a team that can grant him more freedom, less responsibility, and easier access to the kind of success and accolades his skills deserve.
Hazard has done everything Chelsea have asked of him. Moreover, if this season was a sort of audition for his long-desired role as Real Madrid’s new star, after Madrid snubbed him last summer in favor of rolling the dice with what they had in a not-unfounded suspicion as to Hazard’s true ceiling, the Belgian has aced it. Hazard has hit a new level this season, and in doing so has made the discrepancy between his level and Chelsea’s glaringly obvious. The time is right for him to leave for club that matches.