BAKU – Eden Hazard helped make it a night to celebrate for Chelsea in Baku, but the Belgian's confirmation that it was almost certainly his last game for the club opened the way to a summer of uncertainty at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard scored twice, including a penalty, and set up another goal for Pedro Rodriguez after Olivier Giroud had set Chelsea on their way to an emphatic 4-1 win over London rivals Arsenal in the Europa League final in Azerbaijan.
Maurizio Sarri's side deserved their victory as they won the competition for the second time in Hazard's seven-year spell at the club.
They will be back in the Champions League next season, by which time Hazard looks set to be wearing a Real Madrid shirt.
“I have made my decision already and now I'm waiting on both clubs. I think it is a goodbye, but in football you never know,” Hazard told BT Sport after the game.
The 28 year-old, whose Chelsea contract expires next year, has long been linked with Madrid and all signs point towards a transfer that could be worth in the region of 100 million euros ($111m).
“My dream was to play in the Premier League and I have done that for one of the biggest clubs so maybe now it is the time for a new challenge.”
Chelsea have known this moment was coming, but it is a huge concern for a club who are facing up to a FIFA-imposed ban on signing players in the next two transfer windows, pending an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“I have a special relationship with him on the pitch and off it. He's a mate. I am really happy for him and for his future. We will miss him,” said Giroud.
“He deserves it too, after seven years of good and loyal service to Chelsea. He deserves a new challenge.”
Hazard will now hope to go on and win the Champions League, a trophy Chelsea lifted in 2012 just before signing the Belgian from Lille. In his time in west London, Hazard has won two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and a League Cup as well as two Europa Leagues.
“I knew. I knew Eden wanted to leave, of course, but as I said in every press conference, I wanted to respect his decision,” said Sarri.
Sarri set for talks
This was the former Napoli coach's first major trophy in management at the age of 60, at the end of a season in which he also steered Chelsea to third place in the Premier League to secure a return to the Champions League before this game, but it remains to be seen if the Italian will stick around for a second season.
He has struggled to win over supporters at Stamford Bridge and has been strongly linked with a move to Juventus.
The vacancy at the Serie A champions may be infinitely more tempting than staying to pick up the pieces at Chelsea without being able to sign a replacement for Hazard.
“I have to speak to my club. The season finished one hour ago but tomorrow I will begin to speak to my club, with the owner, with the director, with Marina (Granovskaia),” Sarri admitted.
“We need to know what the club can do for me, what I can do better for the club. Then in a couple of days we will decide, but I have a contract so at the moment we are talking about nothing.”
Any talks with Granovskaia and owner Roman Abramovich - who was present in Baku - are likely to centre around what sort of squad Sarri would have at his disposal next season.
“You know very well that I love the Premier League, the level of the competition.
“I am lucky because I am at Chelsea, one of the best clubs in the Premier League, in the best championship in the world, so at the moment I am happy, but of course I want to know if the club is happy, if we can improve.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)