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Enjoy Eden Hazard While You Can Lest Real Madrid Land Their Man

Enjoy Eden Hazard While You Can Lest Real Madrid Land Their Man

Tuesday, 16 October, 2018 - 07:45
Eden Hazard celebrates putting Chelsea 1-0 up against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on 29 September. He is the Premier League’s top scorer with seven. Photograph: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
London- Daniel Taylor
They don’t bother putting stars on Real Madrid’s shirt to signify all the times they have accumulated the sport’s most coveted trophies. For other clubs, those stars take the form of a status symbol. At Madrid, though, they go by the theory that all they need is their club badge to signify football royalty. No stars necessary – which is just as well because they would need to find space for their own constellation to reflect what makes them different to the rest.

In total, they have had the European Cup in their possession on 13 occasions, including four of the previous five seasons. Milan are next on the list with seven wins and then it is Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern Munich on five. Ajax are even further back, on four, with Manchester United and Internazionale little more than a speck in the distance, on three apiece. Madrid might have their faults, they might be arrogant off the scale, permanently riven with politics and difficult sometimes to love, but their captain, Sergio Ramos, summed it up neatly. “When you put on this shirt, you know you’ve arrived at the very top,” Ramos said. “There is no greater honor.

Nobody should be surprised, therefore, that a player with Eden Hazard’s gifts appears to suspect his career might never truly be fulfilled unless there comes a day when he gets to pull that shirt over his head, to feel the material on his skin and experience what it is like to represent a club that have several decades of authentic greatness as the origins for all that hard-won hauteur.

Hazard is far from the first elite footballer in the English game to feel this way and, by now, we should know enough about the way Madrid operate to understand that if the attraction is mutual, as everyone assumes, history points to this ending only one way. Even when Sir Alex Ferguson promised he would not sell Madrid a virus, never mind Cristiano Ronaldo, we all know what happened. Madrid are not often disappointed. It is not quite true that they always get their man – Exhibit A being David de Gea – but it is certainly a rarity when they fail to get their own way.

As such, Chelsea’s supporters should probably start preparing themselves to lose Hazard next summer and, though this next point might be a hard one to accept, can anyone really be surprised that their most effective player is wondering whether this might be an appropriate time to sever his ties with English football?

Chelsea are a proud club themselves, as the only team in London to win the European Cup and the capital’s most successful side by some distance during the Roman Abramovich era. Hazard’s six years at Chelsea have brought him two championship medals, an FA Cup, a League Cup and the Europa League, and he always seems happily settled with his family in Cobham.

At the same time, the bone‑hard facts are that Chelsea have never gone past the last 16 of the Champions League, including two non-qualifications, since reaching the semi-finals in his second season at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s status as an elite club is undermined by last season’s fifth-placed finish, 30 points back from the top, and the abandonment of plans to redevelop Stamford Bridge leaves them with a stadium that is smaller than those of Bordeaux, Saint-Étienne and Real Betis. Stamford Bridge’s capacity, 41,841, puts it 79th in Europe in terms of size and, when the new White Hart Lane is functioning properly, Chelsea will have only the ninth largest club ground in England and the fourth in London. It is barely half the capacity of the Bernabéu and, however much Hazard appears to be enjoying the early stages of the Maurizio Sarri era, who can begrudge him considering his options when Chelsea are currently on a season of Europa League sightseeing? Of course he is thinking there might be greater adventures to be had elsewhere. Of course the idea of Madrid must be attractive.

They will be fluttering their eyelashes in his direction, too, particularly now they are finding out that it is even more difficult coping without Ronaldo than they might have anticipated. Madrid are on a four-game sequence without a goal and, to put that into context, their longest dry run during Ronaldo’s nine years at the club amounted to two matches – once in October 2009 and again in September 2011. Madrid’s first game of the post‑Ronaldo era was watched by their lowest crowd for La Liga in almost a decade, with only 48,466 inside the 81,000-capacity Bernabéu (admittedly a 10.15pm kick‑off on a Sunday did not help). Gareth Bale has managed only one 90-minute appearance all season and Madrid’s 12 goals from their first eight games is no more than Real Sociedad in ninth or Levante in 11th. Sevilla, the early pacesetters, have scored 18 times. Barcelona have 19. Even 10th-placed Celta Vigo, with 13 goals, have outscored Madrid so far.

Early days, of course, but this all points to what Madrid should probably already have known: that there is no player in the world who could replace Ronaldo’s 50-plus goals every season. Hazard could, however, help the process immeasurably and the Belgian certainly appears to consider it a firm option, rather than merely a possibility. He has been making little secret of how he feels, openly talking about his aspirations to play in Spain, and adopting a slightly risky strategy bearing in mind football fans do not tend to appreciate their players talking about their temptations to join another club.

At least he is being honest and, for the time being, he is playing with such brilliant vision and touch to get away with it. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to see if his form were to deteriorate later in the season. Hypothetical for now, perhaps, but a few iffy performances and, football being the hard-faced industry it is, questions would inevitably be asked about whether his heart is still in it.

For the time being, all that can really be said is that English football should enjoy him while we can and, to give him his due, he also leaves the firm impression that if this is his final year at Chelsea he is determined to make it a memorable one. Hazard’s influence at Stamford Bridge is such that Chelsea even weighed up his feelings – disenchantment, primarily – before the decision was taken to sack Antonio Conte. His renascent form under Sarri is a triumph of the Italian’s man-management and when Hazard is playing this beautifully it goes without saying that Chelsea should try to explore every way of keeping him.

On that front, they are prepared apparently to make Hazard the most financially endowed player in the club’s history with a deal worth around £300,000 a week. Madrid, one suspects, might be willing to go even higher and Hazard is correct when he says a move to the Bernabéu would enhance his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or. Abramovich’s seat at Stamford Bridge goes unused these days and at the end of this season Hazard’s transfer value will be depreciating because he will have only a year remaining on his contract.

There is a common assumption about Chelsea sometimes that it is a money-no-object operation, but that is not true. They have already lost Thibaut Courtois to Madrid for a knockdown fee of £30m when, realistically, Chelsea could have sold him for twice that amount a year earlier. Again, they might have to take another financial hit, but there is no way they would even contemplate the other option of letting Hazard run his contract down and leave on a free transfer in 18 months. It is Madrid, as usual, in a position of strength and that is not just a shame for Chelsea but the Premier League as a whole.

Gascoigne no saint but SFA’s U-turn on hall of fame is a sin
As much as I feel sorry for the bloke, I can understand why there was a certain amount of unease about the news Paul Gascoigne was among the public nominations to be inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. All the same, what to make of the follow-up development that several board members of the Scottish Football Association – the organization, lest it be forgotten, that would like everyone to forgive and forget when it came to Malky Mackay – were apparently planning to boycott the ceremony?

None of those board members, I note, were willing to put their name to this leaked story and, as yet, nobody has felt confident enough to articulate what is actually a reasonable point: that Gascoigne’s previous is difficult to airbrush when it comes to celebrating his achievements.

At the same time, you have to admire the double standards of an organisation that struck such a sympathetic and understanding tone when it came to those unfortunate text messages that Mackay – later appointed as Scottish football’s performance director and, briefly, interim manager of the Scotland team – pinged to a colleague, in the name of banter, when he was at Cardiff.

As far as I know, these Hall of Fame events have never previously contained a good-behavior clause, but it is the explanation from the Scottish FA that really makes you marvel at their selective memories.

“It’s OK not to be OK,” the organization announced on Twitter on World Mental Health Day. The announcement about the Gazza volte-face came within 24 hours and was based, according to an official statement, on various factors including “concerns over the state of Paul’s health”. Which is very sweet of them, I’m sure you will agree, and undoubtedly the kind of gesture that will make the subject of this heartfelt care feel so much better.

Checkatrade change still costing clubs at the turnstile
The latest bulletin from the Checkatrade Trophy includes the lowest crowds in the history of Port Vale (601 v Burton), Oxford United (929 v Northampton) and Walsall (702 v Middlesbrough) and the worst attendance for a game at Cambridge United (469 v Southampton) since at least 1970, the same year they replaced Bradford Park Avenue in the old Fourth Division.

Not for the first time, the thought occurs that maybe it is time for the Football League, rather than insisting the changes to this competition have “proved successful”, to drop the pretence and accept, in fact, they have made an absolute pig’s ear of it.

(The Guardian)

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