The Blues' big piece of early summer transfer business proves they do not see their Champions League triumph as being the end of an era but just the beginning of oneCOMMENT
By Greg Stobart
Some might have been forgiven for expecting Chelsea’s triumph in the Champions League to signal the end of the Roman Abramovich era given his obsession with conquering Europe since buying the club in 2003.
But as the Blues embark on a regeneration of the squad this summer, the clear message is that the Chelsea owner is looking to build on the European triumph by regenerating and improving the squad during the summer transfer window.
The clear instruction from the Russian is that he wants the Blues to play with more style and to re-establish themselves as Premier League contenders following a disappointing sixth-placed finish this season, 25 points behind the Manchester clubs.
|By Robin Bairner | French Football Editor
In style, the Lille star has often been likened to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi – a lofty comparison, for sure, but those who have seen him terrorise Ligue 1 defences would doubtless agree that the same direct running style is in evidence.
From the start of his career in Ligue 1, he displayed a willingness to commit defenders, to beat them with his pace and skill, and to grow into a true match winner.
It was 2010-11 when Hazard truly grew to be a man, though. Along with Gervinho, he was the star of the Lille side that picked up their first Ligue 1 title in nearly 60 years and also claimed the Coupe de France to complete a first domestic double since 1946.
Although Gervinho recorded superior statistics in terms of goals and assists to Hazard, it was the Belgian who was seen as the leading light and was named Player of the Year for the first time.
Rumours of interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs had long been circulating by this stage, although he would reject these approaches to develop his game further in northern France.
He then started this 2011-12 campaign so spectacularly and kicked on to enjoy a tremendous year.
Perhaps the aspect of his game that has most improved is his composure in front of goal. An attacker who quickly picked up the art of playing a killer pass, there were times in his formative years in which he appeared panicked in front of goal.
There have been no such problems in recent times, though, with Hazard scoring 20 Ligue 1 goals in this campaign.
The sums involved in Hazard’s transfer are eye-watering. On top of the £32 million transfer fee, the attacker will earn £170,000-a-week over a five-year contract while his agent, John Bico, is expected to pocket around £5m after conducting a high profile auction over several months.
The fact remains, though, that Hazard was the hottest property in Europe this summer and it is a huge statement from Chelsea to beat domestic and continental rivals to his signature.
Chelsea may be managerless - with Roberto Di Matteo still only ‘interim’ boss despite winning the Champions League and FA Cup - but Abramovich is driving the club forward regardless as he looks for the Blues to start winning in style.
The Russian wants swashbuckling, attacking football based on the Barcelona model of short passing and pressing. That's why Pep Guardiola has been his preferred choice of new manager, indeed that is why he appointed a young, attack-oriented boss in Andre Villas-Boas last year.
He may well get what he wants with Hazard alongside Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and fellow new signing Marko Marin. Hulk, the £30m-rated Porto striker, is also a leading target for the Stamford Bridge club to supplement Torres following the announcement that Didier Drogba is leaving.
Able to play either centrally or out wide, Hazard will see himself as the star of the show, having been likened to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo this season as he scored 20 goals and provided 22 assists in Ligue 1.
The player of the year in France for the last two seasons, Hazard could well prove the signing of the summer.
Combined with the Champions League triumph and progress being made on plans for a new stadium - potentially on the Battersea Power Station site - the future is looking bright for Chelsea next season and beyond.
Abramovich has shown he is still ready to bankroll the club, to compete with the oil billions of Manchester City as he looks to conquer England and Europe in style. The implications of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules seem a secondary thought.
For now, Chelsea are making sure that their magic night in Munich is the start of something special rather than the end of an era.
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