Eden Hazard’s move to Real Madrid could be the best thing to happen to Chelsea this summer. Seriously.
The timing of his departure to Spain could not have been perfected any greater. He signed off as a hero with his farewell brace in a European final, was an integral part of his two league championships – and has left the club with a fair wad of cash ahead of next summer’s rebuild – should the transfer ban stand.
And working with that ban on top of the talisman’s exit gives Chelsea the opportunity of a generation – to finally give a chance to those who have made good on loan moves elsewhere in the Blues first team.
An influx of returning stars are set to be the only kind of arrivals at Stamford Bridge with the club unable to buy players until 2020, so any improvement as far as personnel is concerned will have to be sourced from their ex-loanees, of which there’ll be plenty to choose from come August.
Hazard was, by some distance, Chelsea’s standout player last season by registering goals and assists in double-figures in the Premier League alone.
For someone to sufficiently step into his shoes with a non-existent budget is just not going to happen – meaning a new star will have to make their name at the club next season.
Thankfully, there is an array of budding candidates. Hazard’s departure could herald more prominent roles for the likes of Ross Barkley or Pedro in the Chelsea midfield – while returning youngsters Mason Mount (from Derby) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (from injury) will be working towards a starting place with something to prove.
It could also inspire a formation change – with Olivier Giroud potentially being rewarded with more opportunities next term after his own Europa League heroics – while Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi could come in to challenge him – or join him – in a position which is suddenly both pivotal to Chelsea’s attacking threat and bursting with high-quality options.
With no standout star, the competition for places should get the best out of the team and show the fans what these young prospects are really made of. Big games will come thick and fast in the league and in Europe, leaving little room for error – but while there will be pressure on the team to provide results, this is a free-hit of a season for the individuals involved.
Splashing out on a big star to replace Hazard would surely be on Chelsea’s to-do list given their financial resources, and there will be the danger that those who don’t grasp this opportunity could be cut next summer with presumably double the amount of cash available once the restrictions are lifted.
But if Abraham, Mount et al come good in what is set to be a unique season, their place in Chelsea’s long-term plans could be set in stone – and could have Hazard and the transfer ban to thank for it.