In seven seasons at Chelsea Eden Hazard emerged as one of the club’s modern greats, a spell filled with memorable moments and swashbuckling swagger.
Hazard arrived as one of the most promising talents in European football and departed several seasons later established among the elite talents in the game.
Chelsea had beaten competition from Europe’s top clubs to sign Hazard from Lille in 2012, as the Champions League winners secured a £32m deal for French football’s hottest property. Hazard had spent five seasons developing at Lille, earning back-to-back Ligue 1 Player of the Year accolades before his move to the Premier League.
Hazard’s first season was filled with promise as the division’s defenders first faced a talent who would torment them over the coming campaigns. The Belgian glided past challenges and shifted past outstretched legs, in a campaign which ended with 13 goals in all competitions and inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year.
Then came change.
A familiar face returned at Chelsea, as Jose Mourinho was appointed as manager for a second spell at Stamford Bridge. Hazard’s first season under Mourinho saw him named as the PFA Young Player of the Year and runner-up to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez for the senior award. Another season of excellence had been completed, though it was just the precursor to what was to come.
That summer Mourinho rebuilt his side, strengthening the spine in search of title success. Thibaut Courtois replaced the long-serving Petr Cech in goal, Cesc Fabregas added assists in midfield, and Diego Costa provided Chelsea with a free-scoring and snarling focal point.
Each had their own crucial contributions to a title-winning campaign, but it was the irresistible Hazard – handed the number ten shirt following Juan Mata’s exit – who was Chelsea’s catalyst for success.
He scored his first goal of the Premier League season against Leicester, the second in a 2-0 win as Chelsea made a perfect start to the season. It was a goal that encapsulated the best of the Belgian, who drifted dangerously infield to drill a low effort past Kasper Schmeichel.
Chelsea began the season in scintillating form and Hazard was at the heart of their success. Everton were hit for six in a nine-goal thriller at Goodison Park, while Swansea were beaten emphatically at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho’s men won seven of their opening eight fixtures and beat Arsenal 2-0 in early October to end the only other unbeaten record in the division. Typically, it was Hazard who set them on the way to that triumph after winning and converting a spot-kick.
Goals against QPR and West Brom followed a delightful double to down Maribor in the Champions League, before a brilliant Hazard performance as Chelsea thrashed Spurs. Hazard opened the scoring with a rifled finish after a neat one-two with Didier Drogba, as the Blues’ maintained their six-point advantage at the top of the table.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) December 7, 2022
Chelsea’s lead would be one the west Londoners would not relinquish, with Hazard remaining the spark even as others around him faded.
Mourinho sought to tighten up his side after a chaotic clash with Tottenham on New Year’s Day, one which saw Chelsea concede five goals and a result which saw Manchester City move level with the leaders on points, goal difference and goals scored. It was the first time Chelsea had conceded four or more goals in a single league game under Mourinho.
The tactical tweak to a more regimented approach failed to diminish Hazard’s impact. The Belgian – who had received criticism for his defensive work during Chelsea’s Champions League exit the previous season – had taken on board his manager’s methods, showing a willingness to work back in addition to tormenting full-backs higher up the pitch.
Application and raw talent had made Hazard the division’s stand-out star. At times he was utterly unplayable, shouldering Chelsea’s creative burden brilliantly.
In March he helped Chelsea to the first silverware of the season, as Spurs were beaten in the League Cup final at Wembley. Hazard’s cool spot-kick had helped decide the semi-final with Liverpool, as the west Londoners won the competition for a fifth time.
A run of five goals in nine games then reignited Chelsea’s title charge with Hazard the driving force of their Premier League challenge.
An early opener at Aston Villa began a run of goals, a purple patch which included a vital winner at West Ham and a stunning strike at Hull. Manchester United then fell victim to the Belgian, as Hazard collected Oscar’s brilliant back-heel to seal 1-0 win in west London.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 4, 2022
Chelsea’s coronation as champions was confirmed two weeks later and fittingly it was Hazard who anointed the Blues as the best in the division. It might not have been a highlight moment for Hazard as he turned in a rebound from his own missed penalty, but his header past Julian Speroni at the second attempt started the celebrations at Stamford Bridge.
The title was Chelsea’s fourth of the Premier League era and a first for Hazard in English football, this was a triumph wrapped in his wizardry. His most consistent campaign to date had added a sprinkling of stardust and swagger to the division’s best side. He scored 14 goals and laid on nine assists, but the numbers were a small part of Hazard’s coming-of-age campaign.
The moments unable to be calculated in the statistics were what made Hazard’s season special, as he elegantly evaded opposition defenders, each aghast at how to deal with Hazard’s low centre of gravity and explosive changes of direction. The oohs and aahs that greeted almost every touch, the anticipation when he received possession – and the applause that often followed – were what Hazard’s season will be remembered for.
He had taken on Mourinho’s methods and bought into his manager’s demands, without abandoning the care-free and balletic brand of football which saw him cherished at Chelsea.
A pleasure to watch at his best with enterprising dribbles and incisive passes, his peers voted Hazard the PFA Player of the Year. The FWA Footballer of the Year and Premier League Player of the Season awards followed, in a triple triumph that cemented his standing as the Premier League’s top talent.
Hazard spent four further seasons at Chelsea and continued to win major honours, adding a second Premier League title to his collection in 2016/17. Six trophies in seven seasons was an impressive haul, but the Belgian departed in a big-money deal in 2019 to realise a childhood ambition.
Real Madrid possesses a lure no club in world football can match and there had long been a sense that Hazard would feel his was a career unfulfilled had he not worn the famous all-white, a club steeped in unrivalled European tradition and one of established greatness.
Hazard’s exit saw Chelsea lose a footballer who had captivated in the club’s colours. Irrepressible and electric, his 2014/15 season was a campaign in which Hazard reached a new level. At that time, anything appeared possible, so sublime was his talent.