It is a story which refuses to go away. Eden Hazard again cast doubt over his Chelsea future at the weekend, with the Belgian’s heart seemingly set on a move to Real Madrid at the end of the current campaign.
“I have one year left [on my contract] in June,” he told Canal Plus following his side’s 3-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur, their first defeat of the Premier League season. “If I don’t extend, it [a transfer] is possible. I can’t see myself leaving in January. I wouldn’t do that to the club, to the fans. Next summer it’s a possibility, but it’s also possible that I spend the rest of my career at Chelsea.”
The former Lille man went on to add that he will not be returning to Ligue 1 at this stage of his career, thus quashing suggestions he could join Paris Saint-Germain. Hazard has made it clear that he is holding out for a move to the Santiago Bernabeu, having told reporters last month that “Real Madrid is the best club in the world. I don’t want to lie today. It is my dream since I was a kid, I was dreaming about this club.”
Hazard appears to be genuinely torn between signing a new deal at Stamford Bridge and, as Robin van Persie said of his decision to swap Arsenal for Manchester United in 2012, “listen[ing] to the little boy inside of me.” It remains to be seen, however, whether Madrid will even attempt to sign him next summer.
This has been a disastrous season so far for los Blancos. Julen Lopetegui was sacked in October following a 5-1 thrashing by arch-rivals Barcelona, a result which left the capital club ninth in the La Liga standings. It was also their fifth league game on the bounce without a victory, while an embarrassing 1-0 reverse to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League further weakened the ex-Spain coach’s position.
Santiago Solari was initially installed as caretaker manager, before signing a three-year deal to take on the job permanently. The former Madrid midfielder steadied the ship with victories over Real Valladolid and Celta Vigo, but Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Eibar shows that the club’s issues run far deeper than the man in the dugout. Despite everything Madrid are still just six points adrift of top spot, but that says more about Barcelona and Atletico Madrid’s own shortcomings than it does about a team who have almost lost as many top-flight games (five) as they have won (six) in 2018/19.
Solari will probably be replaced in the summer unless he can mastermind a significant turnaround in La Liga or win the Champions League. It is also hard to envisage a situation in which Madrid do not splash the cash in the transfer market; they have not made a Galactico-style signing since 2014, and while the consequent continuity coincided with three Champions League trophies, the squad is now in desperate need of a refresh.
Hazard, though, is unlikely to be Madrid’s principal target. PSG duo Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are the players who will most excite Florentino Perez, and attentions may only turn to the Belgian if both of the France-based forwards prove unobtainable.
Even then, there may be some doubts at the Bernabeu over Hazard’s efficiency, particularly as Madrid will be seeking to belatedly replace Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals. For all his undoubted brilliance the 27-year-old has never been prolific, having averaged 11.5 Premier League goals per season since his 2012 move to Chelsea. Seven in 12 games is an excellent return so far this campaign, but Hazard has not found the net in any of his last nine outings for club and country.
The man himself once questioned whether he would ever be able to score as regularly as the world’s best two players.
“I ask myself what I can do to become like Messi and Ronaldo, and score 50 or 60 goals in a season,” he told Sport/Foot Magazine in 2015. “I try but I realise that I will never be a true scorer. It is not in me. It is mainly mental. Sometimes I still think after a goal, ‘that’s enough’. I’m not in search of records like some other players.”
Chelsea fans may therefore be quietly confident of keeping hold of their star man beyond next summer. Hazard has spoken publicly of how much he enjoys Maurizio Sarri’s favoured style of play – “[he] is a manager who likes to have the ball… that makes a big difference,” he said in September – and seems to have no desire to move anywhere other than Madrid. Securing Champions League football for 2019/20 is a must, but a departure from Stamford Bridge at the end of this season is far from inevitable.
(Greg Lea of thesetpieces.com).
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