At the beginning of October, news broke that Eden Hazard decided to hang up his boots at only 32 years old. Whilst he accomplished more in his career than most footballers his retirement was, in a way, shrouded in sadness due to how it came about. After 7 years leading the line for Chelsea and considered one of the best players in the Premier League in his time, he moved to Real Madrid in 2019 for a reported 100 million pounds.
These were supposed to be his prime years and he was expected to be one of Real’s crown jewels for the next few years. Sadly, Real didn’t realize that they bought a player who had been playing regular top-flight football since his late teens and was often the most fouled player in the league at the end of the season. These things usually catch up to you, sometimes when a player is 38, sometimes when he’s 28. With his time at Real remembered as a very expensive disappointment, I’d like to remember Hazard properly and take a look at what his colleagues who played his last Chelsea match with him have been up to.
On the 29th of May 2019, Chelsea was scheduled to meet Arsenal in an all-English UEFA Europa League final. What was supposed to be one of the best Europa League finals ever, was overshadowed by the fact UEFA decided to help Azerbaijan do a little bit of sportswashing. Fans had to travel thousands of miles and Henrikh Mkhitaryan had to be given assurances that he would be safe. Nonetheless, the teams offered a great spectacle and Chelsea won 4-1 with Hazard scoring a double.
Chelsea’s goalkeeper that day Kepa Arrizabalaga arrived that very season for a record-breaking 70 million pounds and made a promising debut. Things soured when he refused to be substituted disobeying Maurizio Sarri, but by the time Chelsea played the semi-final against Eintracht Frankfurt, he was back in the line-up, saving two penalties in the shootout to send Chelsea through.
The next few years saw Kepa fail to maintain any consistency, blowing hot and cold, getting replaced by Willy Caballero, helping his team beat Liverpool in the FA Cup, then making a mistake against Liverpool a few months later and getting lambasted by Frank Lampard. The arrival of Edouard Mendy from Rennes signaled the end of Kepa’s ambitions of becoming the first-choice keeper.
Thomas Tuchel managed to help Kepa recover his form somewhat as he started sharing minutes with Mendy and in 2021, he surpassed the legendary Petr Cech as Chelsea’s most prolific penalty saver. Graham Potter’s arrival, alongside goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts, continued Kepa’s resurgence and he finished last season with the third-best save percentage in the league. He is currently on loan at Real Madrid, filling in for the injured Thibault Courtois, and at only 29 still has time to fulfill his potential.
We all love a bargain in world football and Chelsea’s captain in the Europa League final Cesar Azpilicueta is probably one of the greatest. Having signed for Chelsea back in 2012 for only 7 million pounds, I think I can rightly say he has attained club legend status. Dependable, and always available, Azpi always played at a high level with the occasional world-class performances sprinkled in between.
In the seasons following the Blues’ Europa League triumph, he helped his side win the Champions League and became only the 4th player in Chelsea’s history to surpass 300 appearances in the Premier League era. With his triumph in the 2021 UEFA Super Cup, he also became the first and only player to win every major trophy in a Chelsea shirt.
As the seasons followed and the games came and went Azpi was a rock in Chelsea’s line-up providing some much-needed consistency during Chelsea’s tumultuous time in 2022 and 2023 and naturally the records came tumbling down: surpassing Petr Cech as Chelsea’s non-English appearance holder and reaching 500 games for the club, only the 6th player to do so. At the end of last season, he made a tearful goodbye to the club that was his home for a decade and moved to Atletico Madrid where he is still going strong at 34.
Opposite Azpi at left back Emerson Palmieri also played the full 90 and provided the assist for the opening goal. Costing 20 million when he joined Chelsea in 2018, he could be considered the opposite of Azpilicueta in the sense that Chelsea overpaid for him and he was nothing more than a squad player in his time at Stamford Bridge. He left Chelsea in 2021 and went on loan to Lyon for a year before joining West Ham at the beginning of this season.
He is already closing in on the same number of appearances he had for Chelsea showing just how little he played in his time there. Emerson’s career also received its biggest highlight in 2021 when he started the Euros final against England as Italy were crowned champions, and he has also added to his trophy haul by winning the Europa Conference League with West Ham last season.
With Antonio Rüdiger’s injury Chelsea’s centre back pairing that evening in Baku consisted of David Luiz and Andreas Christensen and as usual, the best partnerships consist of a loose cannon and a by-the-book player. We start with the loose cannon, David Luiz, who had re-joined Chelsea in 2016 after his stint at PSG. Whilst his talent has always been on a consistent display throughout his career, by the time 2018-19 rolled around his erratic behaviour was more and more common.
He left at the end of their Europa League winning season and chose Chelsea’s bitter rivals Arsenal to continue his career. One of the biggest proponents of Arsenal’s Vibez Era Luiz left after 2 seasons and travelled back to his home country to join Flamengo, where he is still contracted. Last year in October he won the Copa Libertadores and became only the twelfth player to win the top two club competitions in South America and Europe.
His partner that evening, Christensen was just coming into his own as a Chelsea player after multiple loans. In the following seasons, he struck up a very effective partnership with Rüdigerand won the 2021 Champions League Final, as well as reaching the 2020 Euros Final. In the summer of 2022 both he and Rüdiger, left the club heading to the opposite sides of the El Clasico derby. Although it took some time to settle in at Barcelona, Christensen seems to be the preferred option at centre-back for Xavi heading into the future.
Chelsea’s injury issues limited the selection of its midfield somewhat, as Ruben Loftus-Cheek was out and N’Golo Kante suffered a knee injury four days before the match. Luckily for Chelsea, he was able to start the game and played the full 90 minutes. As usual, Kante showed why he is considered one of the best defensive midfielders of his generation, dominating Arsenal’s midfield.
The next season he picked up where he left off, helping his team reach and win the Champions League, which put him in contention for the Ballon d’Or. When asked about the award Kante stated that although it is a great honour, he is not actively working towards securing individual accolades, showing just how great his mentality is as a player. Sadly, for him the years of running around the midfield picking up every ball slowly started to catch up to him as injuries and bad form became more and more common.
After he missed the 2022 FIFA World Cup due to a hamstring injury and with his playtime in London decreasing, he moved to Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2023, joining Al-Ittihad. Jorginho’s career trajectory seemed to follow that of Kante, trailing off during 2022, as Chelsea’s performances experienced a sharp decline. The midfielder had been signed by Sarri right after the Italian coach joined the team, Jorginho basically being to Sarri what Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe were to Harry Redknapp.
Although it took some time to accommodate to his new surroundings Jorginho became Chelsea’s metronome in midfield, dictating play more and more throughout the season. After winning the Europa League in 2019 and the Champions League in 2021 Jorginho played a starring role in Italy’s Euros win, which saw him nominated for the Ballon d’Or alongside Kante.
He placed third in the voting with only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski being deemed better than him that season. With Chelsea in disarray and his performances somewhat dropping off, Arsenal swooped in in January 2023 signing him for only 12 million pounds. Whilst many fans and pundits questioned this move, a player of Jorginho’s quality is a bargain at that price, even if he isn’t at the top of his game currently.
Their final midfield colleague, Mateo Kovacic was in his first season where he was allowed to shine, after being on the periphery of Real Madrid’s squad in previous years. After the Europa League win, Chelsea made his loan move permanent and with Frank Lampard’s arrival, he became one of the key players of the team. His form continued under Tuchel and in 2021 he played in a Champions League final for the first time in his career, despite having already won three UCL trophies.
This past summer, Kovacic moved to Manchester City, narrowly missing out on another Champions League trophy at only 29 years old. If he had moved to City one window earlier, he would have stood a very real chance of beating Paco Gento’s record of 6 Champions League trophies. Kovacic would not play the full 90 in Baku as Ross Barkley came on in his place in the 71st minute. Barkley, who could never reach the potential he promised as a younger player, drifted from side to side and is currently playing for Luton Town.
The two flanks of Chelsea’s attack were manned by Eden Hazard, who scored twice and Pedro, who also bagged a goal. Pedro had joined Chelsea in 2015 and was already a Premier League winner by the time his club played the Europa League final. His goal in the final meant that he was only the 5th player to score both in a Champions League or Europa League final.
After that performance, his career seemed to slowly but surely close down and at the end of the 2020 season he moved to Roma, where his performances started strong but petered off towards the end of the season, but nonetheless scored in a 2-0 win over Lazio. At the beginning of the next season however, Jose Mourinho omitted him from the preseason squad and Pedro joined Roma’s arch-rivals Lazio, making him one of 6 players in this list to have played for the biggest rivals in one particular city.
Back to Chelsea’s wingers, neither of them played the full 90 minutes, Hazard coming off for Davide Zappacosta in the 89th minute and Pedro for Willian in the 76th. Zappacosta joined Atalanta in 2021 where he is still playing, whereas Willian signed for Fulham in 2021 via Arsenal and Corinthians.
The lone striker that evening was none other than Mr. Handsome himself, Olivier Giroud, who had just signed from Arsenal that season. He scored the opening goal of the final against his former team in the 49th minute, one of 39 he scored in his 119 Chelsea appearances. Never a full starter, he stayed in London until 2021 when he moved to Milan, with many expecting him to stay for one season and then retire.
This belief is however far from the truth as Giroud has already amassed 100 appearances for the Rossoneri scoring 40 goals and helping them secure the 2022 Serie A title. Even though he is already 37 he shows no signs of slowing down, even branching out into goalkeeping, as he filled in for Mike Maignan in a game against Genoa, making a crucial save.
Last on the list is the man who orchestrated Chelsea’s victory, the charismatic and chain-smoking Maurizio Sarri. As he had no true footballing background, he has had to battle his way up the divisions for all of his career and seeing him admire his Europa League medal was one of the most heart-warming sights in football.
Sadly, with Chelsea prioritizing short-term trophies he was let go at the end of that season, and went on to join Juventus, whom he led to the Serie A, but lost the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa. Once again, he was deemed not good enough, and after taking a year off, he joined Lazio in 2021, where he is still active at the moment.
By: Eduard Holdis / @He_Ftbl
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Robin Jones – Getty Images