Hazard Perception: Injury-Hit Eden Hazard Must Choose Next Move Carefully

What has happened to the former Chelsea great?
06:55, 24 Nov 2021

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Eden Hazard departed Chelsea at the close of the 2018/19 campaign, having led the league in assists and won the PFA Fans’ Player Of The Year award for his efforts. The Belgian was in his prime years, and had hit top gear over the last three seasons, scooping a Premier League, an FA Cup and finally a Europa League, signing off with two goals in the final. This electric form secured Hazard his dream move to Real Madrid. A chance to take his world class talents to perhaps the biggest club in the world. Except it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Hazard hoped his transfer from the Premier League to Los Blancos would echo that of Cristiano Ronaldo. The league’s standout player departing to dominate La Liga. Instead, it has more closely resembled Thomas Gravesen’s move from Everton to Real Madrid. In fact, in his first two full seasons at the club, Hazard has appeared in six less games than the Danish midfielder did during his own disastrous Bernabeu stay. Hardly a ringing endorsement of a man who was supposed to be the defining signing of a new Galactico era.

Wearing the number 7 shirt vacated by Ronaldo, with a fee that could rise above the club record sum paid for Gareth Bale with add-ons, Hazard’s tenure has not hit the heights of either of his predecessors. Ronaldo would go down in Madrid folklore, scoring 450 goals for the club and lifting four Champions Leagues. Bale has often split opinion in the Spanish capital, with injuries and a perceived lack of commitment levelled at him. However, he has never played less than the 14 La Liga games Hazard managed last season, aside from a loan spell at Tottenham Hotspur. Bale also boasts the kind of indelible moments in Real folklore that Hazard does not. His instant classic strike against Liverpool in the Champions League final springs to mind.

Of course the Belgium international is not solely to blame for his lack of success since leaving Chelsea. He has suffered a series of injuries since swapping Stamford Bridge for Spain, severely limiting his time on the pitch. However, most galling is the lack of impact he has made when available. Hazard enjoyed a good relationship with previous manager Zinedine Zidane, and the Frenchman showed faith in return. Eden would be restored to the line-up on his return from injury, but struggled to make telling contributions when he played. The former Lille winger scored just five goals in his 43 games under Zidane.

Under Carlo Ancelotti, a fellow Chelsea old boy, Hazard has mainly featured from the bench. Reports suggest that the 30-year-old will be made available for transfer either in January or during the summer window. Naturally Chelsea are being touted as a possible destination, either on loan or permanently. One of the finest players ever to turn out for the club, it is telling that there is not a huge clamour for his return. Perhaps seeing fellow Madrid-bound wantaways Bale and Ronaldo enjoy lukewarm returns to the clubs that made them legends has dulled any Chelsea appetite to see him back. Alternatively, it would be fair to suggest the European champions aren’t in dire need of an over-30 who has barely mustered a season’s worth of football in two and a half years.

It is a sad state of affairs for a player who illuminated the Premier League at his best. “Sad” is also the word his international manager, Roberto Martinez, used to describe how the playmaker was feeling at being sidelined in Madrid. Speaking on the El Partizado show, the Belgium manager continued “‘Hazard is medically in his best moment since he arrived at Real Madrid”. This assessment from a manager who works closely with the player on international duty bodes well for a potential Hazard revival.

Where that revival takes place remains to be seen. Real Madrid is not the most patient club at the best of times, but with Hazard a high-earner at a time when Los Blancos are struggling financially, a career rebirth elsewhere feels more likely than a rise to Bernabeu prominence. Still only 30, if Hazard is as fit and firing as Martinez says, he could be an asset to someone. Until then, though, one can only feel wistful for the time when Eden Hazard was truly one of the best in the world.

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