The Courtship of Eden Hazard

The Courtship of Eden Hazard

“I don’t want to say, ‘yes, I am signing a new contract’ and then in the end I don’t end up signing. I want what’s good for me, but I want what’s good for the club because the club has given me everything. So I will see. Sometimes in my head, I wake up in the morning and think I want to go. Sometimes I think I want to stay.”

Eden Hazard made that statement early last week when asked about his future at Chelsea. It came as a surprise to no one as the Belgian has long considered a switch to Real Madrid as his ‘dream’ move and has been unusually candid about his intentions. A departure seems inevitable. When asked if, to win the Ballon d’Or, he would need to go to Spain, he replied: ‘That’s why I want to go maybe.’

‘Maybe.’

Since that interview, he has made it known that there will be no move in January. His contract ends in 2020, but Madrid will hope to secure his signature before that, possibly in the summer. For their part, Chelsea will not want to risk losing their prime asset on a free transfer.

Hazard, who is currently away on international duty, has seven league goals so far this season while his side sit joint top of the league and while they have the means to replace the 27-year-old, his loss will be felt at Stamford Bridge. In his six years he has won two Premier Leagues, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Europa League. At this year’s World Cup he was given the Silver Ball, losing out to Luka Modric for the main award.

But those accolades are not enough. Hazard, like both Ronaldos, David Beckham and Michael Owen before him, will feel that he has not reached the pinnacle of his career until he turns out for Los Blancos.

It must be especially galling for the top Premier League teams to have their elite players being so readily available to both Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Spanish giants will not have to lift a finger to push the deal through.

A recent example of this is Philippe Coutinho. Though they didn’t really need to resort to dirty tricks, Barcelona made their courtship public. So much so that, Nike, the club’s shirt designers, pretty much announced him as a future Barca player long before a deal was agreed with Liverpool. The second an interest was declared, the Catalan media went into overdrive until the Merseyside club agreed a huge fee and allowed the Brazilian to leave.

The same could be said here. Madrid have not made an official approach for Hazard, but, such is their strength and pull in world football, they can merely make the observation of his talent player and let the player do the rest. The gap left by Cristiano Ronaldo would be filled in no time.

Ah, but all this was last week. Hazard has introduced a new player into the saga.

Since announcing his intense love of Real Madrid he has begun to make eyes at another suitor. A more familiar one. His old boss.

“If I’m now asked one coach with whom I want to work again, then I say: ‘Mourinho’.”

Incidentally, Chelsea meet Manchester United next weekend.

There is nothing new in this. Last season, Liverpool’s Emre Can announced his admiration for La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga AND Ligue 1 before he signed on the dotted line. He was interested in pretty much every club other than his own, though he did later state that he might stay at Anfield. He didn’t and signed a five year deal with Juventus.

Though there’s nothing worse than singing a player’s name from the terraces, knowing that his heart is elsewhere, no one can blame Hazard for wanting what’s best for his career and family. There’s no such thing as club loyalty in this most mercantile of ages. In any case, Chelsea have taken more than a few best players away from their previous fans in their time, including Hazard himself when he left Lille for Chelsea in August 2012 for a fee believed to be in the region of £32m. Les Douges were a mainstay top three sides when Hazard was there, even winning the French title in 2011. Last season they finished 14th. Ultimately, players will move on.

But Chelsea won’t care for the time being. Football fans of any club are blind to any criticism of their idols while they’re playing well and so far this season Hazard has led from the front. In fact, he’s been a consistent performer for much of his Stamford Bridge career save for a fallow period in 2015-16 when he failed to secure in 24 games. His manager then? Jose Mourinho.

His Chelsea record currently stands at 76 goals in 216 appearances.

Hazard will go with the majority of the Chelsea faithful’s blessings, but this current state of limbo is shaking his legacy somewhat. Eden needs to pick a club and make a decision before the pantomime extends to a farce for everybody’s sake…