Madrid set to be Hazard's new home

After winning the Europa League, attention turns to the uncertain futures of Chelsea talisman Eden Hazard (left), seen holding the trophy with Cesar Azpilicueta.
After winning the Europa League, attention turns to the uncertain futures of Chelsea talisman Eden Hazard (left), seen holding the trophy with Cesar Azpilicueta.PHOTO: DPA

Belgian star says 'it's time for a new challenge' after Europa League final rout of the Gunners

BAKU • Eden Hazard helped make it a night to celebrate for Chelsea in Baku, but the Belgian's confirmation that it was almost certainly his last game for the club opened the way to a summer of uncertainty at Stamford Bridge.

Hazard scored twice, including a penalty, and set up another goal for Pedro Rodriguez after Olivier Giroud had set Chelsea on their way to an emphatic 4-1 win over London rivals Arsenal in the Europa League final in Azerbaijan on Wednesday.

Maurizio Sarri's side will be back in the Champions League next season, by which time Hazard looks set to be wearing a Real Madrid shirt.

"I have made my decision already and now I'm waiting on both clubs. I think it is a goodbye but, in football, you never know," the forward told BT Sport after the game.

The 28-year-old has long been linked with Real and all signs point towards a transfer that could be worth €100 million (S$153.7 million).

"My dream was to play in the Premier League and I have done that, so maybe now it is the time for a new challenge," added Hazard, who has won two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and a League Cup as well as a second Europa League trophy in his seven-year spell with the Blues.

Chelsea have known this moment was coming, but it is a huge concern for a club who are facing a Fifa-imposed ban on signing players in the next two transfer windows.

Sarri can celebrate, for now. This was the Chelsea manager's first major trophy in management at the age of 60, at the end of a season in which he also steered Chelsea to third place in the league, but it remains to be seen if the Italian will stick around for a second season.


Manager Maurizio Sarri, who lifted his first major trophy in management at the age of 60. PHOTO: REUTERS

He has struggled to win over supporters and has been strongly linked with a move to Juventus.

"I have to speak to my club tomorrow," he admitted. "We need to know what the club can do for me, what I can do better for the club. Then we will decide. I love the Premier League, so I am happy."

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    Matches Maurizio Sarri has won with Chelsea in all competitions this term. Only Jose Mourinho has won more in his first season in charge of the Blues (42 wins in 2004-05).

TIME TO MOVE ON

I have made my decision already and now I'm waiting on both clubs. I think it is a goodbye but, in football, you never know. My dream was to play in the Premier League and I have done that, so maybe now it is the time for a new challenge.

EDEN HAZARD, after helping Chelsea win the Europa League title on Wednesday.

Should Sarri also leave, Chelsea will probably not miss him as much as they will miss Hazard.

There have been times during the season when the Belgian appeared to be going through the motions, as if his heart and mind were already in Spain, but his contribution over the final months has been immense.

In a team that looked low on confidence, struggling to adapt to Sarri's methods, he was so often the creative inspiration, scoring 21 goals and providing 17 assists.

It seemed to come to him so naturally on Wednesday night. This was Hazard playing his own game, not trying to overcompensate as players sometimes do when their ego tells them that this is their stage.

Those little shimmies, the change of pace, that little roulette turn in the first half and the way he drifted away from Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka in the second.

The downside in Baku was that there were not many fans to celebrate his genius - thousands of empty seats contributed to a muted atmosphere.

Many Chelsea and Arsenal fans, probably half their 12,000 combined allocation, stayed away, unable to afford the money or time to make the expensive and inaccessible 9,000km round trip.

For those who made it, they arrived only to realise that the pitch was a fair distance away from the stands.

"You travel all that way to watch a European final and, when you sit in your seat, you're not much closer to the pitch than when you left home," tweeted BT Sports pundit Gary Lineker.

For the fans who tuned in to the live broadcast from home, they were also at times treated to camera angles that were so high that player numbers could not be seen.

But, for all the controversies, the night deservedly was Chelsea's.

No other team have gone through an Europa League campaign this century without losing a game and they did that despite all the doubts surrounding their management and associated issues on and off the pitch.

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2019, with the headline 'Madrid set to be Hazard's new home'. Print Edition | Subscribe