Kevin McCarra‘s frank assessment of the peaks and troughs of the gambler’s “last throw”, otherwise known as transfer deadline day, was an excellent read on The Guardian earlier today. Seizing upon the arrival of Eden Hazard at Chelsea for £32m earlier this summer, McCarra pointed out that sometimes the inflated and frenetic nature of 31 August – in particular – leads clubs to take on players at tremendous cost with almost an “assurance” that they will turn out to fulfil, not only their inflated price tags, but the immense weight of expectation that putting pen to paper on a deal with a Premier League outfit carries with it.
The Blues have hardly been backwards in coming forwards since picking up their maiden Champions League trophy last season, but the 21-year-old Belgian is the club’s poster boy, its marquee signing among a parade of fledgling European superstars. With three Premier League games having been played thus far, Hazard hasn’t even appeared to be slightly daunted by the amount of faith placed in him by manager Roberto Di Matteo and Russian benefactor Roman Abramovich, both in a footballing and monetary sense.
Hazard is clearly the man to lead Chelsea into its new era as a football club. The club’s players have been freed from the inexorable weight of expectation upon the billionaire’s plaything to bring the European Cup to Stamford Bridge, with the loss of Didier Drogba‘s ego having left at least enough space in the dressing room for fellow additions César Azpilicueta, Victor Moses, Marco Marin and Oscar. All of these individuals have a few characteristics in common. They are young, ambitious, highly-regarded and free from the taint of having played for a top flight club in England before. In many ways, there is somewhat of the Jose Mourinho in Di Matteo’s recruitment policy. Bringing in Petr Cech, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien, among others, and combining them with the strong core of Frank Lampard and John Terry, the Portuguese boss turned the Blues into Premier League heavyweights and set a new standard in the top flight in this country.
Of course, the playing field is now different, but only a very blinkered observer would be foolish enough to believe that Manchester City are set to romp to the title they won by a whisker back in May. Chelsea were fairly unimpressive against Wigan Athletic and Reading – despite winning 2-0 and 4-2 – but turned on the style to see off the challenge of Newcastle United. Not only is the squad notably younger, with a transformation almost as drastic as replacing an over-60s pub side with the local under-10s park boys, but it looks cohesive and plays fast, incisive attacking football. In fact the one effect Hazard could have on Di Matteo’s side might be to finally entice the obvious ability of Fernando Torres and end his “wilderness years”. The striker looked sharp against Alan Pardew‘s side, netting from the Belgian’s flick in a scene that is destined to be repeated many a time between now and 19 May when, just whisper it, Chelsea may be champions of England once again.
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