Real Madrid and Eden Hazard looked like the perfect fit when the Belgian tipped up in 2019 as their record signing. Having lost Cristiano Ronaldo the previous summer, Hazard would provide the perfect balance to Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, taking much of the creative burden. Behind Lionel Messi, he was being discussed as perhaps the best player in the world.
Clearly, things did not go to plan. Following accusations of Hazard arriving overweight for preseason, a bright start subsided into long stretches of little productivity. Hazard began fighting injuries on a consistent basis, despite never having struggled for fitness in his career.
Two more seasons would pass by and at the beginning of each, excitement was stirred. Hazard was to be Los Blancos’ ‘new signing’. Looking fitter than ever, the hope was that he would capture his old self once again, as Zinedine Zidane and then Carlo Ancelotti attempted to give him some rhythm. But both campaigns ended with Hazard on the bench.
By midway through Carlo Ancelotti’s first season back on the bench at the Santiago Bernabeu, it had become abundantly clear not only that Hazard was disappointing in his favoured position, but that it would be an insult to Vinicius Junior to leave the Brazilian out in favour of the Belgian. Since, he has gone from strength to strength, making the left-hand side his own.
Ancelotti attempted to repurpose him, first on the right and then through the middle in preseason last summer. Neither worked, and this time, Ancelotti gave up on an improvement quicker than ever. A promising hour at Celtic Park in place of the injured Benzema won him a start against Real Mallorca the following weekend. A poor display saw him hooked after the hour-mark in that match, and he would not be seen in a starting line-up until a relatively unimportant game against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League over a month later.
Even the most optimistic of Eden Hazard fans would struggle to argue that this situation is benefitting Real Madrid or the player himself. According to Marca, Real Madrid will not stand in his way if Hazard considers a departure.
Former Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has admitted that Hazard ‘has had too much time to think’, and yet seemingly he has not wondered if he might be better off somewhere else.
This is not a shot at Hazard. Giving up on making things work at the Bernabeu is tremendous blow to assimilate for any player. Especially when Hazard knows he had all the tools to succeed previously.
It may simply be that Hazard is content in Madrid with his family, a perfectly valid reason for remaining. He has 18 months left on his deal there and will be 33 when it expires, young enough to try something else afterwards.
At this point, Hazard is running away from reality though. Having lost the quick burst that used to get him away, it is not a race he is winning. The chances of him ever succeeding at Real Madrid are minute.
Realistically, the only two positions he is likely to play under Ancelotti consistently are on the flanks of a three-man front line. Current performances aside, Los Blancos have an interest in seeing Fede Valverde, Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius succeed far more than they do Hazard.
If we assume that a consistent run of football is a necessity for Hazard to regain any of the joy he had playing, then Real Madrid is not the place he will receive it. Waiting for a long-term injury is a passive manner of approaching life, and even if he were to get an initial run, convincing both his colleagues and the fans that he still has the ‘it factor’ that made him so good, will be brutally difficult. The Bernabeu is not known for its patience either.
There is no shame in something not working. While it is often projected onto the player, sometimes the club just isn’t the right fit, no matter how much all parties want it to work. A glance across the city at a rampant Antoine Griezmann, back with a manager who believes in him, shows just how important fit is, having looked repressed at Camp Nou for three years. Hazard must be brave and accept Real Madrid’s unspoken invitation to depart the club if he wants to enjoy his job again.