Neil Humphreys: Why Hazard sale is a real problem for EPL
The exodus of superstars will widen gulf at the top of English football
Eden Hazard has turned into the pest control guy, performing a service that everybody needs, but no one likes to think about.
He's turned the spotlight on the darker aspects of the English Premier League transfer window. It's all one-way traffic.
A superstar exodus looms large for clubs not overwhelmed with superstars to begin with.
When the Belgian completes his move from Chelsea to Real Madrid tomorrow, he'll be remembered as the first big-name EPL star to leave English shores in this post-season. But he certainly won't be the last.
There's a turnstile in the dressing room of last season's EPL also-rans, but it's headed in one direction.
Ironically, the gulf between Manchester City and Liverpool and everyone else will accelerate the departures - and the departures will only widen the gulf between the top two and the rest.
As Hazard fulfils a boyhood dream, Christian Eriksen ponders a similar move, dropping hints that his Tottenham Hotspur boots were made for walking. And Manchester United's Paul Pogba finds himself linked with a return to Juventus on a daily basis.
Such transfer speculation is commonplace as agents wave their biggest assets in front of headline writers, hoping to catch the attention of the right boardrooms.
But this transfer speculation comes with a distinct pattern.
Hazard, Eriksen and Pogba are pedigree names, but their clubs have become also-rans. It's easy to picture their agents doing their best Adrian Balboa as she screams at her husband in Rocky IV.
You can't win. And they can't. They really can't, not in English football, not any more.
Two consecutive seasons of a record-breaking points chasm suggest not an EPL anomaly, but a new normal.
Pep Guardiola isn't leaving any time soon, neither is the German Svengali up the road.
The freakish Juergen Klopp takes care of Liverpool's superiority, set in place with a sixth European Cup and a global reach that is surpassed only by Manchester United (though maybe not any more).
And having more cash to spend than a small country takes care of City.
Everyone else is playing for scraps. Or at least they used to.
Last season, City sucked up every piece of domestic silver like an overzealous metal detector, while the Reds lifted the trophy that really matters to every millennial wunderkind growing up in a Brazilian favela or on a Mediterranean beach (i.e. the kind of kid that can take his pick from transfer suitors).
BEST OF THE REST
It was left to Chelsea to pick up the only remaining "scrap", the Europa League, positioning the Blues as the best of the rest for any transfer target eager to achieve that lifelong ambition of finishing third in the EPL.
But Chelsea owe their position to a departing legend.
Hazard scored twice and provided an assist in their Europa League final triumph. He delivered 110 goals and 81 assists for the Blues in 352 appearances.
Basically, the Belgian had a key role in every other goal that Chelsea scored, picking up two EPL titles along the way.
He's terrific value for the initial £88.5 million (S$153.5m) transfer fee, but where does that leave Chelsea?
As things stands, the Blues have a two-window transfer ban. Unless their appeal to Fifa succeeds, they'll remain the ugly, rich guy on singles night, all dressed up with no one to take home.
And Chelsea, ironically, represent the EPL's best hope of defeating the duopoly.
United's interminable shenanigans - in both the transfer market and on the back pages - no longer warrant anger or frustration, but pity.
According to reports, the Red Devils want Pogba out and Gareth Bale in, a lamentable state of affairs for a fallen franchise. United are at risk of losing the kind of footballer that once defined where they were, only to sign the kind of fading superstar that epitomises where they are.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was given the manager's job on a mandate borrowed from Sir Alex Ferguson: no declining brands looking for a last payday.
Solskjaer advocated youthful promise, harking back to a teenage Cristiano Ronaldo as a transfer template. But the Ronaldo of 2003 doesn't sign for the United of 2019. He goes to City or Liverpool.
What kind of player joins a Pogba-less United, or a Chelsea without Hazard, or a Tottenham without Eriksen? Only the kind not wanted at City or Liverpool, the kind that cannot be relied upon to win the silverware that matters.
The restless trio do not just symbolise another spin on the annual merry-go-round, but an acknowledgement that they can't bridge the gap between their clubs and the two trophy hoarders.
They can't beat them. They can't even join them. They can only leave English football altogether.
And their loss would be just another unwanted gain for City and Liverpool.