One and a half years after leaving Chelsea and signing for Real Madrid Eden Hazard is being compared to Gareth Bale by Spanish media – and he is not coming out of the comparison at all well.
What has happened to Hazard?’ was the debate on Spanish radio at the weekend after another underwhelming display in his first start since November.
Most of Madrid’s football media don’t look back too favourably on Bale’s time at the club but the startling comparison of his first 18 months or so at the Bernabeu alongside Hazard’s make for grim reading for the Belgian.
Judging Bale over exactly the same length of time since his debut for the club to the point where Hazard is now, the former Chelsea forward has played 31 games, scored three goals and managed seven assists in 1,964 minutes. He has won a league title and a Spanish Super Cup.
In the same period of time Bale had played 69 games, scored 34 goals, and managed 24 assists in 5,453 minutes. In that time he had won a Spanish Cup, scoring the winner in the final, a Champions League, scoring in the final, a World Club Cup, scoring twice, and a European Super Cup.
As the radio debate raged some asked whether the comparison was unfair because of Hazard’s injuries but it was pointed out that he turned up unfit at the beginning of his first season.
The conclusion was two-fold: Patience is running out; but the club is in a difficult position because when patience runs out completely, there is very little the club can do with Hazard.
He cost more than they will ever get close to raising for him in the current transfer market. And he earns far more than any club would be interested in paying him. They have no alternative except to trust that Zinedine Zidane will end up getting the best out of the player he so insisted on the club signing.
Hazard has played just 31 of a possible 75 games so far. In terms of minutes it’s just 28 per cent of possible playing time. Last season, and with Bale still at the club and taking most of the criticism, Hazard escaped too much attention.
He has also always had Zidane very much on his side. Both Marco Asensio and Vinicius have occasionally had to switch wings so that the Belgian can play on his favoured side.
Zidane’s Midas touch has worked on so many other things at Real Madrid and the club cling to the hope that it will work on a player whose net wage is estimated at around £13.5million (€15m) and they fear could end up creating the same economic problems as Bale without having produced any of the trophies before – it will be the fall without the rise.
Hazard leaves us all cold’ was another one of the headlines after his flat performance in Pamplona on Saturday.
For once, top scorer Karim Benzema could not find the net for Madrid and so somebody else needed to step forward and Hazard ought to have been first in the cue.
Cadena Ser, the same station debating Hazard’s impact or lack of it, ran a poll on whether or not supporters believed they would one day see the best of Hazard in a Real Madrid shirt. An overwhelming 81 percent responded no.
There is a growing sense that Chelsea saw the best of Hazard and Real Madrid not only erred in buying him at this stage of his career but in paying such a high price for him when he only had a year left on his contract.
Just as they struggled to get rid of Bale, and could yet find him back at the club at the end of the season, so they will face a similar situation if they are forced to try to find a new home for Hazard in the summer.
A successful Spanish Super Cup could change everything. It was big goals in finals that stood out from Bale’s first 18 months.
The four-team play-off Spanish Super Cup is about to begin and if Hazard leads Real Madrid to the title then it will serve as a launchpad for the rest of the season. But if that passes him by too then the concerns will rumble on.
He was the last Galatico the club signed before the pandemic completely changed the football financial landscape, right now he is on course to be remembered as one of the least successful.
Making it work after a bad start will be tougher but getting anywhere near their money back will be even tougher so they have to try.