Thursday 14th January 2021 was a sad day for Chelsea football, as the club's longest serving player left Stamford Bridge for good.
That's right, Lucas Piazon finally left Chelsea - joining Braga on a permanent deal.
After turning down the advances of Juventus in favour of Chelsea, the slight Brazilian forward - inevitably, and unhelpfully, branded as 'the new Kaka' - arrived at Stamford Bridge, without a senior appearance to his name in January 2012.
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Piazon impressed in Chelsea's youth ranks and even earned an eventful 16-minute Premier League debut at the end of 2012, despite questioning the 'will to win' of his teammates, or rather, his non-Brazilian teammates the week before.
Nevertheless, when a loan to Manuel Pellegrini's Malaga was suggested at the turn of the year, Piazon was still Chelsea's bright young prospect in need of a few more first team minutes. Little did he know that a six-month stopover would mutate into an eight-year cycle of temporary homes, substitute appearances and dwindling promise.
Yet, with the forward now permanently gone from the club, we decided to take a look at what happened to Piazon in the intervening near-decade since taking those first unassuming steps into Chelsea's loan limbo.
The dream is on
Piazon's first two loan spells were full of promise and growth as the weedy teen adapted to European football. After earning his Champions League debut and enjoying a steady drip of senior minutes with Malaga, Piazon moved to Vitesse in the 2013/14 campaign for, as he would later put it, 'basically my first season as a professional football player'.
With 11 goals, eight assists and more than 2,000 minutes on the pitch, Piazon has never bettered any of these tallies in a single season over the subsequent years.
Piazon would later admit that Chelsea 'often didn't like what I said in the interviews' but was full of hope and optimism during this period, speaking of his desire to prove himself in other leagues before returning to west London and the first team.
The dream is dwindling
In the summer of 2014, Piazon's ambitions of breaking through at Chelsea appeared to be on the wane. Before playing a minute for Eintracht Frankfurt, he made the bold statement of: "If everything fits, I can certainly imagine staying in Frankfurt."
Unfortunately, the Brazilian struggled to adapt to the pace of the Bundesliga - later revealing: “After the first game I lay on the pitch, almost dead.” Piazon would mark his stay with a wicked, last-minute free-kick winner against Hamburg but was dropped for the next game. By April, Frankfurt’s hierarchy made it clear Piazon would not be staying.
Perhaps in an attempt to catch the eye with a spell closer to home, Piazon dropped to the Championship with Reading, for a 2015/16 campaign which consisted of brief flashes before he was on the move again.
It was that summer, in 2016, where Piazon first raised concerns with the Chelsea loan system, which, at that point, included no fewer than 38 players. Piazon lamented: "I don't see it as a positive thing anymore. To be in a different place every year is not good for me at 22."
However, he did caveat his comments with a hopeful conclusion: "I still want to make it at Chelsea, of course. Maybe I can come back in the future." Maybe...
The dream is barely alive
In 2016 Piazon did stay in west London but also remained in the Championship, moving to Fulham. Now firmly established as a winger, Piazon impressed enough at Craven Cottage to have an initial six-month extended to the summer, and then renewed for the following campaign.
Injury may have blighted both Piazon's campaigns in white and black but the wide man was insistent that the first club which had ever accommodated him for more than one season would be his permanent home.
At the end of the 2017/18 campaign, with Fulham in the Premier League, Piazon told the Brazilian publication Globo Esporte: “I would like to stay because I feel really well here. I like to play with my teammates. I like the ground. For me, I would stay.”
The dream is dead
Alas, Piazon was denied his move and seemingly any playing time at all. Despite being included in Chelsea's Premier League squad in 2018/19, he didn't make the bench once. With clubs actively distancing themselves from the serial loanee, Serie A's rock-bottom side Chievo gave Piazon another temporary escape hatch in January 2019.
After just 80 minutes of football in six months, Piazon's patience had all but diminished. Within a fortnight of joining Portuguese side Rio Ave on loan in September 2019, Piazon made his most ruthless (and realistic) assessment of his Chelsea career: "My time at Chelsea is already over."
It should be stressed that Piazon holds no ill will towards his distant employers, subsequently clarifying his position, via Twitter, that 'I adore Chelsea FC and everyone working there'. Although he claimed to Maisfutebol in October 2020 that Chelsea would only agree to loan him out if he signed another contract extension.
Eight years on from Piazon's senior Chelsea debut, the Brazilian has made three first team appearances for the club, signed five contract extensions and embarked upon seven loan spells.