"If Eden (Hazard) wants another experience it's very difficult to keep him," Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri told Sky Sports in the aftermath of his brilliant Belgian’s destruction of West Ham United at Stamford Bridge this week.
"It's a disaster when a player like Eden decides to change team. It's very difficult to find another player at the same level because in the world there are only two or three players at the same level.
"We have to try something different (if he leaves), not find another Hazard. In this moment he is unique."
A disaster. It’s hard to argue that Hazard - now 28-years-old - doesn’t stand head and shoulders above his teammates and most of the Premier League in wealth of natural ability he has been luckily afforded.
Arriving from French side Lille - with whom he won the Ligue 1 title - on the back of Chelsea’s Champions League winning season, Hazard has been at the club for nearly seven years, and during that time has played under seven different managers, with Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte winning the Premier League. He’s failed to win silverware in just two seasons in England.
Hazard’s contract in west London expires at the end of the 2019/ 2020 season, with Chelsea likely to command a brogdinganian price to allow him to leave this upcoming summer - particularly in the midst of a transfer ban - with Real Madrid a mooted destination.
The prospective transfer has drawn parallels to the similar moves for Cristiano Ronaldo exactly a decade ago. The Portuguese’s achievements at Manchester United were even more extraordinary than Hazard, becoming the first player from the club to win the Ballon d’Or in 40 years and winning back-to-back PFA Player of the Year titles to become arguably the best footballer in the world.
Scoring 66 league goals across the three seasons in which Sir Alex Ferguson’s last great United side won consecutive back-to-back titles, Ronaldo also gained his first of five Champions League winner’s medals whilst at the club. Suffering heartbreak against Barcelona in the final of the same competition a year later, Ronaldo had honoured his word to the gaffer, and left for the Spanish capital in a blockbuster, world-beating move. Fair to say in the red side of Manchester, his absence was immediately felt, exacerbated by the departure of fellow forward-liner Carlos Tevez to an aspiring and determined oil-backed Manchester City. Five star players were replaced by Gabriel Obertan, Mame Biram Diouf, and 30-year-old Michael Owen on a free transfer, who took over Ronaldo’s number seven shirt. Antonio Valencia, signed from Wigan in that same period, would also eventually take up that mantle and become a long-standing servant.
With CR7 gone and selling an avalanche of shirts in Spain, United did successfully defend the League Cup they had won the previous season, but were pipped to the title by Chelsea by one point, and only two more titles have been forthcoming in the years since.
One of those came virtually courtesy of Robin van Persie. The Dutchman ended eight years of association with Arsenal without a title to his name, although his final season in north London did procure him the Golden Boot. With this accolade, moving to Old Trafford in 2012 brought him his first - and only - Premier League winner’s medal, again becoming the top-tier’s top goalscorer.
Arsenal meanwhile - now without their 37-goals-in-a-season-striker - followed up by continuing to secure at least-fourth spot in the league and consequently Champions League qualification over the next four years and ended a nine-year trophyless duck with the 2013/14 FA Cup.
A team still experiencing that absence of silverware is their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. In similar fashion to Ronaldo leaving Old Trafford, there was a mutual batting of the eyelashes between player and club as Gareth Bale left Spurs for Real Madrid in 2013.
The Southampton academy graduate had an ignominious record in his initial baptism at Spurs, not featuring in a winning side in 24 games. 21 goals in the 2012/13 season and his second PFA Player of the Year award for the left-back turned winger earned him a move to Santiago Bernabeu, becoming for a period the most expensive player of all time.
Though initial compensatory expenditure looks completely frivolous in retrospect - Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, and Nacer Chadli are some of the questionable seven names afforded by Madrid’s purchase of Bale - there has in recent years been an upturn that has confirmed the Lilywhites firmly in the upper echelons of the elite.
Granted, Bale has collected four Champions League winners’ medals in his time since, albeit increasingly unhappily, but Spurs’ improvement has been undeniable, exemplified by the high-profile move to their new stadium and continuous title-contention with Mauricio Pochettino at the helm, with a new talisman in Harry Kane emerging.
Similarly, five years ago Luis Suarez dragged Liverpool to within an inch of their first league title in a quarter of a century, the head honcho in a sizzling attacking triumvirate of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge under the stead of manager Brendan Rodgers, finishing the league’s top goalscorer despite missing the first two months of the season.
The Uruguayan claimed PFA Player of the Year, and was arguably the most stand-out striker in Europe that campaign, his final in the Red of Liverpool. With his move to Barcelona immediately preceding a sorry sophomore season for Liverpool after being agonizingly beaten by Man City to the chase in 2013/14. Whilst Suarez has reaped in the riches with the Blaugrana - winning the continental treble in his very first season - Liverpool have embraced Rodgers’ replacement Jurgen Klopp emphatically, the German steering them to premier European competition, introducing fan favourites - Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah - guiding to the Champions League Final, and eventually surpassing that 13/14 campaign, following an initial tricky two seasons (6th and 8th) after Suarez’ desertion.
This season - as of April 9th - Eden Hazard has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other player and has recorded his joint-best tally for the club, since his first title win with Mourinho in 2014/15.
This is still with five games left of the season. Unfortunately, it’s looking increasingly apparent that these five may constitute the last remaining fixtures - alongside continuing progression in the Europa League - adoring Chelsea fans will be witnessing their star man wearing their crest and lighting up their own particular revered stage. As rival clubs have experienced, sometimes it’s futile to try and replace the irreplaceable, but these contrasting stories offer some hope that though it may be the end of Hazard at Chelsea, it’s often possible to recover from such ‘disasters’.