Eden Hazard doesn’t have the best poker face. The Belgian, a quintessential ‘Cheeky Chappy,’ simply couldn’t help a smirk spreading across his face when asked after Chelsea’s Europa League win over Arsenal in Baku whether he would be leaving the Stamford Bridge club this summer.
He clearly knew something and with that revealing expression, so did we.
Indeed, Hazard’s transfer to Real Madrid had become the worst-kept secret in European football so there was little surprise when it was confirmed last week, with the Spanish giants paying a fee that could ultimately exceed £150m.
This was a move that had been a long time in the making.
— Real Madrid C.F. ???? (@realmadriden) June 7, 2019
The 28-year-old is Real Madrid’s first ‘Galactico’ signing since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer. Hazard will be expected to fill the void left by the Portuguese forward as Zinedine Zidane rebuilds his team following a dismal 2018/19 season, which saw the capital club finish third in the Spanish Liga table.
Is the Santiago Bernabeu the right place for Hazard, though?
There is, after all, no tougher place for a player to endear himself – Gareth Bale can testify to that. Is it possible that Hazard could become the biggest and most notable victim of Ronaldo’s Real Madrid exit and the legacy that he has left behind?
The achievements of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo have warped expectations at the top of the sport.
Before the emergence of the two superhumans, a 20-goal season was considered the mark of an elite performer. Now, the bar has been raised to unprecedented heights. Attackers, regardless of whether they are a centre forward or not, are expected to score more than ever before.
Hazard is exactly the sort of player who has been impacted by the Messi/Ronaldo duopoly. The most common criticism made of the Belgian is that he doesn’t score enough goals – he failed to break the 20-goal mark in any of the seven seasons he played in the Premier League. That criticism can be traced directly from the standard set by the player he is considered to be the replacement for at Real Madrid.
Of course, Hazard won’t be expected to solely compensate for the number of goals lost from the Real Madrid team through Ronaldo’s sale. Luka Jovic has also been signed from Eintracht Frankfurt on the back of a season which saw the Serbian striker score 29 times in just 53 appearances. Karim Benzema also crossed the 30-goal mark last season.
The Belgian will be the new face of Real Madrid, though.
It will be his image on the billboards, his name on the back of the shirts. If Hazard thought there was pressure on him to perform at Chelsea, he will be in for a shock. Only a certain kind of character can cope with the environment at the Santiago Bernabeu.
It’s possible that Hazard is one of these characters. Confidence has never been an issue for him. The Belgian quite clearly believes that he belongs at a club like Real Madrid, going some way to manufacture the move for himself.
Bale did the same not so long ago, though, and look at how his career at the club has panned out.
There’s a good chance that Hazard will be a success in Spain. He will need time to grow accustomed to the slower pace of the game in La Liga (see Philippe Coutinho’s struggles to adapt to this) as well as the ways and movement of his new teammates. Hazard has the ability and intelligence to do this, though.
If Hazard fails to live up to his billing, it likely won’t be because of him, but the headline act he is following.