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The Ship of Theseus that is Eden Hazard returning to Chelsea

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It seems every few months, Eden Hazard is linked with a bombastic return to Chelsea. Regardless of how reliable the rumor is (spoiler alert, never), Chelsea fans always begin asking themselves if they would like Hazard’s second stint in Blue.

It’s easy to see why. Even after a few down years, Hazard is Hazard. This was the player that carried the Blues through many games in the last decade. His time at Real Madrid has been less than stellar but perhaps it is a case of going back to where he always has a seat at the table.

There is one problem, however. The Hazard returning isn’t the Hazard that left. It’s the Ship of Theseus problem. If you have a ship and you replace every board that rots, eventually you’ll have replaced the whole ship. And you’ll ask yourself; “Is this the same ship?”. It is, but it really isn’t at the same time.

The Hazard that currently plays for Real Madrid is nothing like the Hazard that played for Chelsea. A second chance at Chelsea isn’t going to turn back the clock on the injuries, physical and mental, that Madrid have dealt. The Blues would be getting a player that looks like Hazard, acts like Hazard, but one that certainly won’t play like Hazard used to.

But that’s only one side of the equation. Many teams find, when they have a player so above the rest, that they get tunnel vision. They try to funnel everything through that player and eventually it becomes one note. It’s not that the team necessarily improves by the loss of a player like this, but they do gain a variety that they wouldn’t have had before. And with variety comes new faces to be given a chance.

Who loses their chance if Hazard returns? Christian Pulisic who already has to fight off near constant injuries? Callum Hudson-Odoi who maybe this time is finally laying down his marker as a future elite? Mason Mount who does the hard, behind the scenes and underappreciated work that allows the team to function at a higher level? Timo Werner who, despite his goal scoring issues, works his socks off to help his team out? Kai Havertz who has yet to fully lay down his marker as it is? It’s not as simple as Hazard simply returning. Someone has to give up a spot somewhere along the line.

Fans always want players to come back but very rarely is it worth it. With Frank Lampard’s youth revolution, the transfer ban, and now Thomas Tuchel, the Blues have moved into a new era. Hazard will always be an important part of how Chelsea got from one Champions League to the next even if he didn’t win either with the Blues. But going back to Hazard would be a decision made less with football in mind and more with nostalgia.

It’s sad that Hazard’s time at Real Madrid hasn’t gone as he’s liked. It’s not Chelsea’s job to fix that. Because their Hazard doesn’t exist anymore and the Hazard that would come back isn’t the same Hazard that left.

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