The fall was spectacular as it still remains inexplicable. Player of the year last season, Eden Hazard has looked shockingly gaunt shadow of the player that terrorized Premier League defences at will last season, a player who was mentioned as the de facto third best player in the world behind the galactic duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Whether it was fatigue, complacency or disinterest, the inescapable fact is that the Belgian international has regressed badly, failing to spark an equally comatose Chelsea team to life when he was needed the most.
The mazy dribbling runs, the incisive, eye-of-the-needle passes, the spectacular goals and the deft feints have all but disappeared from his game.
In its place is a bland, colorless collection of injuries, ineffectual passing, wayward shots and a generally anaemic pattern of play. Last season, the former Lille attacker was the most fouled player in the Premier League, such was his nuisance value to opposing defenders that the only way to stop him was to foul him.
Last season, he plundered 21 goals for club and country as Chelsea romped to the League and Cup double under Jose Mourinho. In sharp contrast this season, he has only managed a goal and 3 assists, both returns coming from a 5-1 thumping of Manchester City in the FA Cup.
However despite showing flashes of last season’s brilliance in the match, it only proved to be a false dawn as his woes have continued unabated. Due to his scintillating form last season, Europe’s top guns were understood to be circling, dusting up their cheque books in anticipation of a bidding war.
Chelsea, aware of interest from the continent’s heavyweights, tied the player down to a five-and-a-half-year deal to ward off interest from the likes of PSG and Real Madrid. You may be forgiven to think that with Hazard’s form having plummeted to such shocking levels, that interest in him would have waned.
However, it seems that Real Madrid are about to concretize their interest in Hazard. With Cristiano Ronaldo considered a declining force, Hazard, whose career is thought to be on an upward trajectory, never mind his current form, is viewed as a perfect replacement for the Portuguese who may be shifted out of the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of this season.
With Zinedine Zidane at the Real Madrid helm, the probability of that happening is becoming increasingly likely.
Earlier on, in April 2015, Zidane , then the coach of Madrid’s reserves had remarked in an interview with French publication, Maxifoot ( via London evening standard), “Obviously there’s Lionel Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo, both of whom are spectacular, but I like Eden Hazard a lot too. I like everything he does on the field. I like his behavior, his decisiveness and love to see his progress every year.”
That was vintage Real Madrid and the machinery for the charm offensive had been switched on.
Hazard duly reciprocated by saying, “It’s always nice to hear that the player I admired during my childhood speaking about me. I have always appreciated Zidane. I know about him as a player but not so much as a coach, although he has had a very successful debut at the Bernabeu. But I am still under contract at Chelsea and I feel fine.”
A year later and his idol is now the Madrid coach. Although Los Blancos’ interest may have cooled somewhat, Hazard’s body language has been that of languid disinterest, indicating a player who wants out from what is perceived to be the boredom at Stamford Bridge.
For Hazard, just about anywhere would do, thank you. His utter disregard for tact and decorum in his quest for an exit was starkly evident on the eve of Chelsea’s Champions League clash with French Champions, PSG.
In an interview granted to Le Parisien , Hazard was asked if he could join the French giants at some point and he affirmed, “It’s hard to say no to PSG, as with all teams capable of winning the Champions League. Now, PSG are a part of this category. And for me, winning the Champions League is the main objective.” Quote via daily mail.
In the world of soccer transfers, this was tantamount to blatant eye-fluttering coquetry, a not so subtle come-and-get-me plea.
A player who already has grand designs of leaving a club whether overtly or covertly is bad for dressing room harmony and Sky Sports pundit and columnist, Paul Merson, writing in his column says, “… I’d drop Eden Hazard off if I could get £60m for him. He’s had one good year and this season, he has been bordering on atrocious. If you can get the money, you’d take it all day long. You don’t know if he’d turn out a one-season wonder and you can’t take that chance.”
Both PSG and Real Madrid have the resources to match the Belgian’s current £200, 000 per week salary as well as the playing personnel to complement the star dust that Hazard is (or used to be).
With both sharks circling, and Hazard doing nothing to shoo them away, it would be difficult for Chelsea to keep him.