*This article was originally published in Dec 2018.*
With the January transfer window now opened, every team is looking across the landscape at potential transfers to make a difference for the second half of the year and beyond. And for Chelsea, there’s one move that must happen above all else.
Chelsea need to sell Eden Hazard. Not should. Chelsea need to sell Eden Hazard this January for the improvement of the team and club in both the short term and long term.
Before laying out every reason, Hazard loves Real Madrid and has mentioned on several occasions his desire to play there, even calling them his dream club. He will make the move to Madrid whether Chelsea sell him and recoup some money or they let him run down his contract. It’s a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ Hazard will call the Bernabeu his home.
The first reason to sell Hazard is the fact that he’s overvalued in the transfer market. Despite Chelsea’s aspirations to join the group of elite super clubs, they haven’t reached that level yet and when non-super clubs have an overvalued player – or asset – the right move is to sell.
This past summer as the feelers came out about Madrid’s interest in buying the Belgian captain, Chelsea slapped a £200 million price tag on him.
At first glance, of course, it’s a tremendously high price. What makes this figure so significant though is it would make Hazard the most expensive footballer in the world, even slightly more expensive than Neymar who went to PSG for what still stands as the most expensive transfer in history at £198 million in 2017.
This is important because world record transfer fee signifies that the player, Eden Hazard in this case, is the best player in the world. Is Hazard truly the best player in the world right now and therefore commands a record transfer fee? Better than Messi and Ronaldo? Is he a better player than previous world record transfers? No way in hell.
After the obvious two best in the world, would anyone consider the Chelsea Number 10 the third best footballer in the world? I don’t. Regardless of Neymar’s flopping and diving antics, no one can deny his incredible talent and skill as a footballer as highlight compilations like this one show.
So Hazard isn’t the first, second, or third best player in the world. What about fourth? Luka Modric? I don’t believe he’s the fourth best, but evidently, a lot of people think of him as even higher than 4th because he just won the Ballon d’Or. So I’ll use the majority’s decision here to put him in fourth place.
What about 5th best on the planet? Kylian Mbappe slots into the 5th spot for me based on his ability and performances now in addition to projecting out his future potential. That World Cup Final goal carries a lot of weight.
Finally, in 6th, I accept arguments for Hazard even though I think Salah and De Bruyne both had better seasons last year at Liverpool and Manchester City respectively and can currently occupy a place above the Chelsea forward.
After them, considerations to round out the top ten go to Luis Suarez, Harry Kane, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and N’golo Kante in any order.
Eden Hazard is without a shadow of a doubt a phenomenal player – a great dribbler, amazing at taking on defenders 1v1, fantastic vision, and almost unmatched creativity – and worthy of the top 10. But best in the world and meriting a record transfer fee? No.
“Great” doesn’t always mean “greatest.”
Now, the title of “best in the world” is 100% subjective so anyone who pips Hazard as such makes the statement based on the eye test and personal preference. However, every argument breaks down when it comes to Hazard’s stats and when comparing him to both the last 10 world record signings, aka the best in the world at that time, and the 10 most expensive transfers.
Remember that Chelsea’s price tag of £200 million would make Hazard the most expensive footballer, effectively signalling that he’s the best player in the world. How does he compare?
To compare players statistically, I look at their time with the selling club as it led up to their huge fee because those were their most recent stats and form that the buying team would base their willingness to buy on. Hazard moved six and a half years ago to Chelsea and has had solid stats.
Since the 2012/13 season, the Belgian wizard has notched 101 goals which averages out between 15 and 16 goals a year, with a high of 19 goals in all competitions in 2014/15. Solid numbers and undoubtedly a huge impact and contributor to Chelsea in their Premier League, Europa League, and domestic cup triumphs but not “best in the world” especially for an attacking player.
In fairness, he is a pass first guy so lower goal tallies in favour of a high number of assists can yield “best in the world” opinions. The expectation for Hazard then should be banging in assists left and right, correct?
Well, only one season with more than 20 assists in 2012/13 racking up 24 a career high in his first year in London. After that, seasons with 10, 13, 8, 7, and 11 respectively for the Blues. Solid numbers yes. Best player in the world numbers? No.
Luka Modric just won the Ballon d’Or, the de facto best player in the world award, without a stellar goal and assist numbers, so stats aren’t the only way to get recognized as the best in the world. But he’s a midfielder. He makes the pass before the assisting pass.
Hazard is a forward and should be in the final third with goals and assists the highlight of his game, not his “work rate” or what he does off the ball in the build-up. His goals and assists show he’s above average and solid, not best in the world.
Hazard’s goals and assists have played an important part at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea’s success in recent years but he hasn’t set the world on fire. He had a great assisting year in his first campaign at Stamford Bridge, scored lots of goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2014/15 season earning him the Premier League Player of the Year award, and with Belgium won the 2018 World Cup Silver Ball for second best player in the tournament.
On the flip side, from 2012 to now, no Golden Boots or Champions League titles and no International trophies with Belgium for Hazard and he’s only managed to finish as high as 8th twice in 2015 and 2018 in Ballon d’Or voting.
Now having seen Hazard’s stats with Chelsea we can compare him to the last ten world record signings and their stats in the seasons leading up to their record-setting fee.
Working in reverse chronological order, Neymar is the most recent world record signing, moving from Barcelona to PSG in 2017. Neymar bagged 39 goals for the Catalans in 2014/15, 31 goals coupled with 25 assists in 2015/16, and 20 goals in 2016/17 and won a Champions League to go with his Copa Libertadores trophy, South America’s Champions League equivalent. Far superior to Hazard on the field.
2016 world recording signing Paul Pogba’s stats come in below Hazard with 10 goals and 16 assists in his most prolific season at Juventus before making the move back to Old Trafford. He is a midfielder though and not always around the box for the final touch.
Outside of his club stats, Pogba won the 2018 World Cup playing a prominent role for France as well as the 2014 World Cup Best Young Player award. Understandable to say he’s better than Hazard.
Gareth Bale moved to Real Madrid from Tottenham in 2013 for a world record fee of £86 million. He started his professional career as a defender with Southampton and Spurs before moving to the front line and even he scored 20+ goals while playing in North London. He netted 26 goals in the 2012/13 season with Spurs to go along with his 15 assists before setting the world record transfer fee. Hazard hasn’t had a season that good yet.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2009 move from Manchester United to Real Madrid needs no explanation or reminder of his qualifications.
In the same year, Kaka transferred from Milan to Real Madrid for a short-lived record fee of £56 million and recorded 16 goals and 12 assists in his last season in Italy. Doesn’t appear as great at Hazard on paper, but Kaka at his point had won a World Cup, a Ballon d’Or, World Player of the Year award, and a Champions League.Eden Hazard has none of those in his trophy cabinet so I’m not convinced that Hazard is a better player than the attacking midfielder.
Several years before the Brazilian’s transfer was that of Zidane to from another Italian team, Juventus, to Real Madrid for £46+ million. Zidane, a world-renowned midfielder at the time, tallied 6 goals and 13 assists in 2000/01 before his big-money move to Spain.
Although not spectacular numbers by today’s standards, the Frenchman had already won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 Euros with France as well as a Ballon d’Or once and FIFA World Player of the Year twice before his arrival in La Liga. Does Hazard have those? Nope.
Yet another record signing for Los Blancos was Luis Figo’s unprecedented move from arch-rivals Barcelona which also set a new record fee in 2000 and he subsequently won the Ballon d’Or the same year, both equating to status as “best in the world.”
Hernan Crespo came off 25 goals in all competitions in the 1999/2000 season for Parma giving them the incentive to sell to Lazio for a then world record fee of £36 million. Better numbers than Hazard and furthermore, the Argentine had won the Copa Libertadores beforehand.
In 1999, Christian Vieri moved from Lazio to Inter for what would now be considered a nominal £28 million but was a world record at the time. He only played one year for the blue side of Rome, but if you take into account his year at Lazio and the previous year at Atletico Madrid, he scored 29 in Spain and then 14 in the Italian capital before moving to Inter. Two seasons equal to or better than Hazard.
Stats leading up to Denilson’s 1998 transfer from Sao Paolo to Real Betis are hard to come by so this comparison could go to Hazard, although probably better to exclude this one without the data.
Brazilian Ronaldo had two world record fees, the first after he scored 33 goals for PSV in 1995/96 which led to his move from the Netherlands to Barcelona. And then he secured a second world record fee in 1997 from Barcelona to Inter, after he slotted home 47 in Catalonia in 1996/97 to go with his 4 assists.
In addition to his incredible stats, he had already won a World Cup, FIFA World Player of the Year, and Ballon d’Or. Far better than Hazard for club, country, individually, and team-wise.
Alan Shearer’s move within England from Blackburn to Newcastle broke the bank at £15 million following 32 goals in all competitions the season before making his way to St. James’s Park. In his time leading up to his move, he earned 3rd in the Ballon d’Or voting, FIFA World Player of the Year, and the Premier League Golden Boot three times. And he eventually became the Premier League’s all-time leading scorer, a record he still holds.
All of the previous 12 world record signings from Neymar to Alan Shearer, sans Denilson possibly, outperformed Hazard individually and/or with their clubs and country. The world record signings of the past include Champions League winners, World Cup winners, European champions, Ballon d’Or winners, and a litany 20+ and 30+ goal scoring seasons. Hazard does not compare to these players in the stat book or trophy cabinet meaning he should not be the next guy to break the world record transfer fee.
If a team like Real Madrid are willing to pay a record fee for a player not worthy of it like Eden Hazard, I think Chelsea need to make it happen because he’s extremely overvalued in the market. Sell overvalued assets. It’s business 101.
Now, high valuations like this shouldn’t surprise anyone as the last few years have seen the transfer market prices skyrocket with multiple transfers in the hundreds of millions. Even when you compare Hazard to the ten most expensive transfers, not necessarily record-setting, but just the 10 most expensive, he doesn’t stack up to most of them either.
Neymar, Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo once record breaking and one not, and Bale make both lists of record fees and are still in the top ten. I’ve already discussed them so I’ll move on to the others who were not record signings but are among the 10 most expensive players of all time.
Phillipe Coutinho moved from Liverpool to Barcelona for £106 million and has similar numbers to Hazard. The Brazilian recorded 14 goals and 9 assists in 2016/17 in his final full season at Anfield before his January 2018 move to Spain. I’ll take the Belgian in this comparison so add a point to Hazard.
Ousmane Dembele only had one good year at Dortmund before his £97 million move to Barca in which you can defensibly argue that Hazard has been better throughout his career. But the Catalans paid for Dembele’s potential as he moved at the age of 20. A second tally for Hazard although time will tell on this one and could sway the other way.
Down the list, we move to Gonzalo Higuain who knocked in 25, 29, and 38 goals in his three years in Naples on top of his 12, 11, and 3 assists in their respective years. Significantly better than Hazard especially as a forward who should score.
After that, we have Romelu Lukaku who led West Brom with 17 goals and 7 assists in 2012/13 on loan and went on to rack up 16 and 8, 20 and 7, 25 and 7, and 26 and 7 in his time at Goodison Parkbefore joining the Red Devils. Not best in the world but arguably more important to Everton than Hazard has been to Chelsea.
Virgil Van Djik comes in with the 11th highest transfer of all time and it’s hard to quantify his worth statistically as a defender and compare to Hazard. At 12th is Luis Suarez moving to Barcelona after his time on Merseyside in which he racked up 30 and 11 in 2012/13 and then 31 and 19 the following year.
Suarez, Lukaku, and Higuain didn’t set world record fees and still outperformed Hazard in many categories. Dembele doesn’t have enough data to cement himself as superior to the Belgian and Coutinho arguably isn’t as good.
Eden Hazard doesn’t match up with the previous 10 world record signings nor most of the previous ten most expensive transfers. While good, he is severely overvalued and Chelsea should take advantage of that market miscalculation especially with Madrid struggling and willing to pay the outlandish fee.
Turning 28 in January of 2019, Hazard is ripe selling age especially as he enters the second half of his prime and Madrid are struggling to replace Ronaldo and his production which gives Chelsea the perfect opportunity to extract maximum value from the transfer of Eden Hazard this January before his performances start to decline with age.
It’s the right time and perfect alignment of the stars for Chelsea to sell.
If you don’t like stats, then you don’t like facts and there’s nothing I can do to save you. On top of the undeniable figures, there are still more reasons that Chelsea should sell Hazard. The biggest one is that the Blues should build their squad around N’golo Kante instead of the Belgian captain and selling him can provide the funds to do so.
In the current system under new manager Maurizio Sarri, Hazard plays an important role because of his talent and versatility, not tactically. Kante may not be the focal point of Sarri’s system, but when’s the last time a manager stayed at Chelsea more than three seasons?
Claudio Ranieri from 2000-2004. And it doesn’t get much better than that, having to go all the way back to the 60s and 70s for a longer manager tenure when Dave Sexton spent 7 years between October 1967 to October 1974 at The Bridge.
Chelsea doesn’t keep managers very long so signing Hazard to a long-term deal at huge wages because he plays well in the current manager’s system makes no financial sense. N’golo Kante, who just signed a 5-year extension should be the guy to build the team around.
A defensive midfielder who’s punching above his weight out of position as a Number 8 and in a different system should be the rock in the middle that the club builds around for years to come as the managerial merry-go-round continues through the years.
Kante won two Premier League titles in a row with Leicester and then Chelsea as the most important player in both sides capping his second consecutive title-winning season by earning both the Premier League Player of the Season and PFA Player’s Player of the Year awards in 2015/16.
Kante was the most pivotal player in Leicester’s counter-attacking system under Ranieri and fit the 3-4-3 Antonio Conte system at Chelsea the following year. He stood out as the most outstanding player both years and proved he is the straw that stirs the drink.
His amazing defensive abilities allow him to fit any manager’s system and be the most important figure just as he’s shown in the past.
Chelsea signed Kante long term and he will stay longer than the current manager based on Chelsea’s history with the men on the touchline. Therefore, the Blues need to build the team around him and hopefully choose managers whose systems use Kante effectively.
Right now, Hazard is playing through the second to last year of his contract with Chelsea and he’s had a great start. In 22 games across all competitions, he’s got 12 goals and 9 assists putting him near the top in Europe in each category by itself and combined and is on pace for a career year.
But isn’t it strange that he’s playing so well in a contract year? The second to last season in a top player’s deal is the most important as his transfer fee reaches its peak before it starts to decline because buying teams can just wait a short while to get him for free or at a discount because the seller doesn’t want to lose out.
This past summer was the peak for Chelsea to have sold him and this January is their last chance. After this transfer window, Hazard has the most bargaining power as he can sign for the highest wages possible if he extends with Chelsea or reaps the highest transfer fee by moving to the Spanish capital. And during all this, oddly enough he happens to be on pace for his best season statistically.
I don’t think it’s a conspiracy or that he purposely played below his best in the past however I do find it quite convenient that players in many sports have career years when they’re up for new contracts.
So, Chelsea can sell now in January and get top dollar, even though they should’ve cashed in this past summer as I talked about on my podcast, as they haven’t missed their window of opportunity yet. It’s closing quickly though.
Or they can wait until there’s only a year remaining on his contract as it seems the board will do and see the potential transfer fee plummet, just as they did with Thibaut Courtois before his bargain sale to Madrid. Or they can follow Liverpool’s lead who let Emre Can go for free to Juventus after his contract expired.
Hazard this past summer was at a sweet spot and combined with perfect timing could have garnered the world record asking price Chelsea slapped on him but the club didn’t strike while the iron was hot. Now, every transfer window that he remains in West London drops the potential transfer fee more and more and Chelsea misses out on millions that they could use.
In the big picture, anything Chelsea gets will eclipse the £32 million they paid Lille for him so profit is profit. With inflated prices in general in the transfer market and a significantly overpriced Hazard himself, Chelsea should sell him and use that money to set up the club both short term and long term.
If Chelsea sells Hazard, they can use the funds in countless ways to improve the team on the field. This year, “as goes Hazard so goes the team” which is a problem. If he doesn’t score, Chelsea doesn’t score. So why would I advocate selling the only player that gives Chelsea a chance to win?
Selling Hazard means the West Londoners will have a treasure chest to sign different players that will make Sarri-ball hum beautifully. Sarri has his man Jorginho at the base of the midfield three, a keeper who can play out of the back in Kepa, and a lot of solid talent around them. Adding world class striker will improve the squad exponentially, something they have missed dearly.
If I were on the board, I’d go get Mauro Icardi who I think is the most underrated Number 9 in the world. He led Serie A in goals last year for heaven’s sake hitting the back of the net 29 times. Or there’s talk of bringing in Gonzalo Higuain on loan which could work out in the short term.
Or at least Chelsea should use Hazard as a bargaining chip to raid his Spanish pursuer of Isco, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vasquez, Marcelo, or any combination of those players.
Chelsea has the chance to secure enormous funds for an overvalued player. Selling one and buying two or three others is a great deal in my eyes especially if it yields a world-class Number 9, a better left back, and possibly a midfielder as back up to Barkley and Loftus-Cheek (who get more playing time), or possibly a wide forward to replace Hazard and challenge Willian and Pedro.
Furthermore, Chelsea can use the vast sums of money that would come from selling Hazard to fund the Stamford Bridge renovations and expansion if they so wish. It’s on hold for now due to many delays involving both the city and owner Roman Abramovich’s personal visa and immigration problems, but getting 200 million of the projected 1 billion in one transaction is a huge help to expand the stadium and increase the matchday revenue along with commercial revenue which of course then gives the club more to invest in players.
Over six and a half years at Chelsea so far, Eden Hazard has proven that he’s a great player and worthy of a big money move, but not a world record fee. And due to his overvaluation, I can’t think of a better time than now for Chelsea to sell him.
He doesn’t stack up statistically with either the last ten world record signings or the ten most expensive transfers in history. Moreover, Chelsea should build around N’golo Kante instead of Hazard for the long term as he will fit any future Chelsea manager’s system. And lastly, Chelsea can use the funds to benefit both the team and club for the long term.
I’ve enjoyed watching Eden Hazard grace Stamford Bridge with his wonderful and graceful football since his arrival in 2012. From a fan’s perspective, it pains me to champion his sale. As a businessman and following my personal motto of “think like an owner”, I know it’s come time to sell him and move on.
Chelsea has a golden opportunity to take advantage of Eden Hazard’s fantastic form this year and the transfer market conditions. Everything is in line. They need to grab the opportunity before it escapes them both on the field and in their wallet.