The Belgian star joined Real Madrid from Chelsea for a fee of £130million but has struggled in Spain due to injury and a lack of form
Eden Hazard was given the full Galáctico treatment having signed for Real Madrid from Chelsea in the summer of 2019.
There was the obligatory packed press conference, at which his entire family was present. A warm welcome from the club’s president, Florentino Perez. And then the trademark introduction to the Spanish giant’s supporters – more than 50,000 fans were inside the Bernabeu to catch a glimpse of Hazard in the famous white shirt.
It was all very grandiose. All very Real Madrid. But not very Hazard. The presentation, quite simply, wasn’t really his style.
The Belgian, despite his undoubted brilliance, has never craved attention. Nor has he attempted to revel in his celebrity. He is a humble man, a family man. Not someone who searches for the spotlight; it’s why he rarely uses social media.
“I’m not a Galáctico, just a very good player,” Hazard said at his unveiling. Perhaps Real Madrid didn’t quite understand that.
Hazard enjoyed his seven years as a Chelsea player for many reasons. One of which was the life he could live away from the pitch. He and his family didn’t live in London. Instead, they preferred the leafy village of Cobham. It’s where the club’s training ground is located and where he could enjoy the countryside with his wife and children.
“I am in love with Cobham,” Hazard said during his time with Chelsea, per The Athletic. “Everybody knows me now. Nobody’s asking for a picture anymore. A quiet and a relaxed life.”
Hazard is, quite frankly, as down-to-earth as a superstar footballer can be. It’s why he and Real Madrid were never quite the right fit despite the La Liga giants being the club of his boyhood dreams.
Los Blancos’ entire identity is based around glamour, power, financial muscle. And that is something they’ve flexed countless occasions over the last two decades. Luis Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham, Káka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale. The big names have always arrived for bigger fees.
Real paid Chelsea £130m to sign Hazard, a rather remarkable figure given the Belgian was 28 years old and had just 12 months remaining on his contract.
But he was viewed as the replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, a talismanic figure who could carry them to glory.
Was that ever Hazard? Well, could you imagine Ronaldo saying this? “It is not important how many goals I score,” he said in an interview in 2018. “You know me, I don’t care about that. I just want to enjoy my football, win games.”
Things didn’t get off to the best start in Madrid. Hazard reportedly arrived overweight for pre-season training. There was an immediate uproar the likes of which he never experienced at Chelsea.
“I am surprised his weight is discussed,” former Blues teammate Cesc Fabregas told Marca that summer.
“It seems that people haven’t watched him during his seven years in the Premier League. Pre-seasons may be difficult for him and playing at Real Madrid is a big thing, but I have no doubts about him.”
Unfortunately, Fabregas’ prediction hasn’t come true. Hazard has struggled with his fitness at Real Madrid. Injury has followed injury and, as a result, his form has been poor.
Hazard has made only 37 appearances for Real since joining the club. He has only scored four goals in that time. It has been the toughest period of his career. His body, so used to taking punishment during his time in English football, has failed him often.
Yet while other elite-level stars would grow frustrated with the injuries, Hazard was able to find a silver lining, a rather wholesome positive.
“I’m lucky that when I’m injured and stuck at home, I have my family to get me through,” he said in an interview with On The Front Foot in February.
“It’s not the end of the world for me because I can spend time with my kids, when you’re alone and injured it can be tough but I’m lucky that I have my family to support me.
“When you’re injured there’s only so much you can do, you can work to get better faster but the injuries I have had to just take time to heal. I just have to wait, work hard to get better and when I’m at home I can enjoy the time with my family.”
Hazard made his return from his latest muscle injury against Real Betis at the weekend. He looked sharp, focused. And just in time to face Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals.
He is in Zinedine Zidane’s squad for tomorrow’s game. “He looked very good on the field the other day,” the Frech coach said.
“That was the important thing, not feeling any of his old problems. Now he is good, and now to push on. We are happy to have him with us, he will bring a lot to the team.”
Chelsea supporters know what Hazard can bring. They became accustomed to seeing it during his time at Stamford Bridge, perhaps even took it for granted on occasion.
Maybe the same could be said for Hazard. There were no great demands placed on him at Chelsea, no expectations of what he should be on and off the pitch.
He was simply allowed to be Eden Hazard. You wonder if that will truly ever be enough for Real Madrid.