Eden Hazard faces career-defining choice this summer
Eden Hazard won yet another man of the match award as Chelsea ran out 4-0 victors over Brighton last weekend. The score flattered the Blues, but that was in largely down to the jaw-dropping brilliance of the Belgian international.
Chelsea leant on moments of magic from Hazard in their last two title winning campaigns. That’s okay, teams are allowed to rely on their best players at times. Replace Hazard with Willian last season and Chelsea are not champions. He’s that good.
He is the name all of Chelsea’s players look towards, and rightly so.
As is the case with every Premier League player of such pedigree, though, it means two Spanish giants begin to lurk.
Given the recent acquisitions of Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho, Barcelona are unlikely to register even a minute interest in Hazard. Instead, it is Real Madrid who will be – almost inevitably – making contact with the Stamford Bridge hierarchy. A wounded Real Madrid are a dangerous animal in the transfer market.
Cristiano Ronaldo has finally dropped off a cliff with his performances, Gareth Bale remains an outcast of sorts and Marco Asensio is having an underwhelming campaign given the expectation a few months ago. After a summer of rare inaction from Los Blancos, a blockbuster move or two is inevitable.
Hazard, who was recently named in the UEFA Team of the Year, will be a target. The rumours of improbable swap deals have begun already.
There is an expectation that Premier League players jump at the chance to play for Barcelona or Real Madrid. We could go through the extended list, but it’s probably easier to look back at the Coutinho saga, and the fact the reigning World Player of the Year was all-conquering with Manchester United but still opted to leave for the distinctly sunnier Spain.
Hazard will almost certainly have a choice if Real Madrid make a move next summer. Chelsea will – even with their comparatively frugal recent mindset – be desperate to keep hold of the player that is the centrepiece of their team. The Belgian could defy the expectation and remain at the 2016/17 Premier League champions.
No one would expect that right now, and why would they? All evidence suggests that the advances of a Spanish superpower – in this generation, at least – are impossible to resist. Then there’s the small matter of joining a team who have dominated the Champions League in recent years, which, of course, was supposedly why Hazard chose to join Chelsea in 2012.
The reasons to join Real Madrid are obvious. Hazard could play under his idol, Zinedine Zidane (though his job will soon be under severe threat). He would be playing for the Biggest Club in the WorldTM. The money would probably be okay, too.
Instead of Tiemoue Bakayoko, Hazard would line up alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. We all know the reasons that players want to move to the Spanish capital, and they’re understandable.
West London Isn’t So Bad
It is in Hazard’s hands, though. So, could he choose to stay at Stamford Bridge?
Well, yes, since you ask, he could.
Moving to Real Madrid is a risk. For the stars like Kroos, Modric and Ronaldo it has engraved their names in footballing history. For James Rodriguez, Gareth Bale and a plethora of others, it has stalled their careers. The footballing public in Madrid are not just harsh, they are ruthless, impatient, and downright hostile.
While you can become a sporting deity, it is far easier to become an enemy. Fortunately, football fans remain fickle, meaning you can switch from one to the other with apparent ease. For instance, a recent poll by AS found over 67% of fans wanted Cristiano Ronaldo to leave the club.
Playing in a team of such quality could finally secure Hazard as a Ballon d’Or candidate. Reaching those heights at Chelsea is unlikely.
Staying in west London would be a safer option for Hazard. Remain the largest fish in a big pond, rather than dropping down the hierarchy in a vast ocean. You could say it comes down to his ambition. His ceiling is lower at Chelsea, but he is guaranteed to become one of the greatest players in the history of the club.
That must be tempting. Sprinkle in a Premier League title or two and maybe even European success, and Hazard would be the club’s greatest ever. Even for someone whose ego seems minimal, that must be slightly appealing.
Chelsea’s fans will not resent Hazard for leaving for Real Madrid, but it will take a gloss off what he has done at the club. Should he reject such advances, Hazard will be elevated to the status of Didier Drogba, Bobby Tambling and Gianfranco Zola.
Definitive Few Months
Another Player of the Year contending season from Hazard paired with Madrid’s struggles make a summer approach certain. Assuming the fee is not so vast that Chelsea pack Hazard’s suitcases for him, it will be all down to the player.
It boils down to a choice between cementing himself as club icon at Chelsea or taking a leap to potentially become recognised as one of the best players of a generation.
At 27, Hazard is unlikely to have time to be anything other than another name at Real Madrid. While Chelsea’s dependence on him might be seen as a lack of ambition on their part.
With a vital role in Belgium’s World Cup campaign and at the centre of the transfer story of the summer, 2018 will be the year that defines Eden Hazard’s career.