He was signed to fill the boots of Cristiano Ronaldo and even inherited the Real Madrid No.7 shirt vacated by the Bernabeu icon, yet Eden Hazard’s move to Spain is threatening to turn into a nightmare.
azard’s season appeared to be over before La Liga fixtures were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic after fracturing his ankle in last month’s game against Levante, yet it was telling that few Madrid fans lamented his ongoing absence after a miserable first season in Spain.
Already, Hazard is facing a battle to convinced Real Madrid fans that he is good enough to play for their club as an injury-plagued campaign has left so many questions that he will need to answer.
“My first season at Madrid has been bad – but not all of it,” stated Hazard in an interview with RTBF. “It’s been a season of adaptation. I’ll be judged on the second one. It’s up to me to be in good shape next year. I still have four years on my contract.”
Hazard’s seven seasons at Chelsea saw him consistently hailed as one of the best players in world football by English observers, with his leading role in Chelsea’s Premier League title wins of 2015 and 2017 cementing that adoration.
Hazard’s absence from the top spots in the annual Ballon d’Or ratings often caused consternation among his army of admirers, yet the scepticism over his status as one of the game’s greats always lingered and now those doubts have been enhanced after a disappointing his first year in Spain.
The player who finished No.13 in the 2019 Ballon d’Or may have been comfortable excelling under in a dimmed light at Chelsea, but he has yet to prove he can take centre stage under the brightest glare imaginable at the Bernabeu.
After missing the start of the La Liga season due to a though injury picked up in the final training session before the opening game of the campaign, his Los Blancos debut was delayed and when it came it was underwhelming.
After failing to provide a goal or assist in his first five games under the management of his idol Zinedine Zidane, the first impression given to Real Madrid fans by their supposed new superstar would take time to shift.
When question marks over his bulky appearance were then aired and Hazard was forced to publicly defend himself, the transfer he had worked so hard to achieve appeared to be in danger of unravelling in double-quick time.
Hazard has managed just one goal for his latest club so far and as that came back in October, the playmaker who arrived eager to confirm he was a world-beater has struggled to banish the doubters who suggested he was not up to the job of playing for the world’s biggest club.
With Real Madrid still being linked with a move for Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and rumours suggesting they are still interested in signing Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, space may need to be created on their wage bill for new arrivals and Hazard may fear that he will be deemed to be surplus to requirements.
At the age of 29, Hazard has reached the top of his personal mountain by seeing his name included on a Real Madrid team-sheet and despite the doubts, Zidane is convinced he will make his mark in La Liga.
“I’m not going to give him any advice, or tell him how he should be,” states the Real Madrid boss.
“He’s a very important player for us and we want more from him but we have to remain calm. I’m not worried.
“He’ll succeed here because he’s a very good player – and that isn’t going to change. We just want him to be fit and then we will see the best of Hazard.
“We all need to relax when it comes to Eden. The same thing happened to me when I first went to Italy and sometimes it can take time to settle. I was relaxed about it and things worked out okay. I knew that things would start working out with time. I know Hazard is going to be an important player – he’ll come good.”
Jose Mourinho may be among those looking in on Hazard’s woes in Madrid with a knowing eye, as the coach who managed the Belgian star at Chelsea is fully aware that this maverick performer is capable of flicking his talent switch on and off when the mood suits.
In the 2014/15 season that saw Mourinho lift what looks increasingly likely to be the last Premier League title of his career, his Belgium playmaker fired 20 goals and was duly crowned as PFA Player of the Year.
When the tide turned against Mourinho the following season, Hazard was notable for his eagerness to hoist the white flag and take a mid-season break that contributed to the hasty exit of his manager.
Mourinho didn’t try to hide his disdain as Hazard’s efforts in a season that saw him fail to score a single Premier League goal that season until April, long after Mourinho had been put on gardening leave after he was sacked by the Blues.
It should be recalled that Hazard was booed by Chelsea fans in the game after Mourinho was sacked, with many blaming him for the exit of the club’s most successful manager.
Three years later and in a different setting, Hazard struggled to find answers once again when critical eyes fell on him.
Hazard claims he is immune to the criticism in the Spanish media as he has yet to master the Spanish language, the clock is already ticking on his hopes of keeping his Real Madrid dream alive.