LONDON: Chelsea fear it may be a parting gift, but should Wednesday’s Europa League final be Eden Hazard’s last game for the club, the Belgian is determined to go out on a high.
After seven seasons at Stamford Bridge, Hazard is expected to move to Real Madrid this summer after running down his contract into its final year.
“I just want to win the trophy if it is my last game,” said Hazard at the prospect of bowing out with his sixth Chelsea trophy.
Hazard has already told the club of where his future lies, with all signs pointing to a departure for the Spanish capital.
However, Chelsea’s position is complicated by a FIFA ban on signing players for the next two transfer windows.
Sell now and as things stand, pending an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, they will be unable to recruit a replacement.
Holding onto Hazard for a further 12 months, though, runs the risk that he can leave on a free transfer rather than for a reported £100 million (US$127 million).
“We need to be ready if he wants something different,” admitted Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri, who himself could be headed for pastures new after the final in Baku.
Despite a topsy-turvy first season under Sarri, Chelsea have at least sealed their principal objective for the campaign by securing a return to the Champions League next season via a third-placed finish in the Premier League thanks to Hazard’s 16 goals and 15 assists.
‘I want to win’
However, the 28-year-old believes his best seasons are not measured in statistics, but silverware.
“In terms of goals and assists, yes,” he said when asked if this had been his best season in England.
“But for me a good season is not if I score 40 goals, I want to win something at the end. I don’t look just for the statistics.”
In Hazard’s time, Chelsea have won two Premier League titles, the FA Cup, League Cup and the Europa League.
However, it is competing for the Champions League, not just qualifying, and the prospect of playing under the orders of his childhood hero Zinedine Zidane that is likely to lure Hazard to the 13-time European champions.
Had Chelsea not beaten the odds to win the Champions League for the only time in their history in 2012, there is every chance Hazard would have ended up elsewhere as one of the most coveted players in Europe when leaving Lille.
However, his seven seasons at Chelsea have reaped just one Champions League semi-final.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, Chelsea have also fallen behind. Sarri’s men finished a colossal 26 points adrift of champions Manchester City this season.
That gap is unlikely to be overturned anytime soon, particularly if Chelsea lose their best player.
One last Baku hurrah will make more happy Hazard memories for the Blues.
But the diminutive number 10, who has defied his lack of physical stature to prove himself in the Premier League, has outgrown his surroundings in west London.