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Eden Hazard to Real Madrid: A Transfer Almost 10 Years in the Making

Eden Hazard to Real Madrid: A Transfer Almost 10 Years in the Making

Thursday, 13 June, 2019 - 06:30
Hazard is the man Roberto Martínez declared ‘as good as anyone in the world’, Enzo Sciffo called a ‘genius’ and his former Chelsea team-mate Kepa Arrizabalaga described as ‘a truly great player, who’d be a starter for any team in the world’. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
London- Sid Lowe
“I would take Eden Hazard with my eyes closed.” Zinedine Zidane’s words are not from this week or last. They are not from last year, the year before or even the year before that. Real Madrid’s manager said that in April 2010, almost a decade ago, when the Frenchman was just about to return to the Bernabéu as presidential adviser and Hazard was 19 and playing for Lille. He was also, Zidane said, “the star of the future”. Now, aged 28, he is Madrid’s present, not just their latest galáctico but their first for five years. He has been a long time coming.

This is the chronicle of a signing foretold, one in which both sides have been open about their mutual attraction. There is an honesty about the way Hazard has spoken and a certain loyalty too – not just to Madrid or to Zidane but to Chelsea. He made no secret of his wish to go and, although his public pronouncements may not always have pleased, they were invariably framed with respect, a promise to do things the right way and a willingness to stay. He did not rebel, as Madrid would have liked, and that is partly why it has taken so long. Instead he embraced his commitment to Chelsea, insisting they would decide. And then he waited.

While he waited he won. At the end of his seventh season Hazard leaves Stamford Bridge having led Chelsea to a second Europa League to go with two league titles, a League Cup and an FA Cup secured in London. In 2015 he was the PFA Player of the Year.

That summer Zidane, then coach of Real Madrid’s B team, Castilla, recommended his signing, just as he had done in 2010. In November 2015 he said: “After Cristiano and Messi Eden is the player I like the best. It’s spectacular seeing him play.” When he became first-team coach, recommendation became request. In the spring of 2017 Madrid put together a plan to sign Hazard, and Thibaut Courtois too, if they could. In early summer 2018, before walking away, Zidane asked again. This summer, back at the Bernabéu, he did not so much ask as demand.

Throughout this period the presence of others – Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco, Marco Asensio – meant the need was not always pressing and some on the board had doubts. But contact had long since been established, commitments made, the pieces put into place. And when Zidane returned in 2019, handed greater authority to build a team, the Belgian was a priority.

Madrid, meanwhile, was Hazard’s priority. He did not force an early exit but he did help make an exit possible. In November 2017 Hazard admitted his admiration for Madrid. A month later his father, Thierry, admitted his son had rejected a contract renewal so he could answer the call from Madrid, if it came – as he had been reassured it would. At the last World Cup he gave an interview to L’Équipe in which he invited Madrid to do just that. And following the third-place play-off in Russia he said that after “six wonderful years” at Chelsea it might be time to experience something different. “You already know my preferences,” he said.

Everyone did. “Eden should be with me, always,” Courtois said. “Wherever I am, I would take Eden.” By then Courtois knew he was likely to be on his way to Madrid and he, unlike Hazard, was prepared to risk a confrontation to force the deal through. He hoped Hazard would join him but their situations differed: Courtois had a year less on his contract than Hazard, and that was vital.

“Madrid interest me, everyone knows. If they want to sign me, they know what they have to do,” Hazard said, but it was not so easy. Chelsea declared him not for sale, Madrid had neither the stomach nor the wallet for a battle and so the wait went on.

Zidane had gone, too. But the interest had not. Hazard had pointed out that Madrid is still Madrid, even without Zidane. And although last summer was too soon, time was at last on his side. In December Hazard told Radio Montecarlo: “You know I have always liked Real Madrid, even before Zidane. After this year I have a year left on my contract, so we’ll see.” That fact facilitated everything. Last week Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, admitted: “Hazard is one of the greats left in world football but then we wanted him last year too. Now he has only one year left on his contract it’s easier.”

Now Madrid have Zidane back he is the one who must make it work. With Vinicius, Asensio, Isco, Rodrygo, Lucas Vázquez, Brahim Díaz, Karim Benzema, new signing Luka Jovic, and maybe even Bale still, there is not an obvious fit for so many footballers. Vinicius, in particular, plays where Hazard does, coming in from the left – and the Brazilian was just about the only light in an otherwise dreadful season.

But then Hazard is the man Roberto Martínez declared “as good as anyone in the world”, Enzo Scifo called a “genius”, and his former Chelsea teammate Kepa Arrizabalaga described as “a truly great player, who’d be a starter for any team in the world”. Madrid’s full-back Dani Carvajal said: “If he comes, which looks more than possible, he’s world-class: we’ve seen that for years. He’ll give us that spark, that player who’s hecho [the finished article], with gallons [status, rank] who doesn’t hide, who runs at people, who assists, scores goals. I’m sure he can give us a huge amount.” The key words there may be hecho and gallons. Vinicius is 19. Hazard starts; the question is whether others do, and where.

Zidane has admitted there will be changes in Madrid’s shape: in the current 4-3-3 Hazard’s natural role would be on the left of the front three or – less convincing, especially in the light of the signing of Jovic – as a false nine. But Zidane was only truly wedded to 4-3-3 by Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo and 4-4-2 with Hazard up front is not impossible, although a more likely option would be for Madrid to play 4-2-3-1 with Hazard immediately behind the striker, or even a 4-2-1-3 with the Belgian as the one. Either way Real remain convinced that Hazard is no problem: he is the solution and one Zidane first saw a decade ago.

“We have been trying to make Hazard a Madrid player for quite a few years but we haven’t managed to until now,” Pérez said.

(The Guardian)

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