As Hazard sealed a €100million move from Chelsea to Madrid in the summer of 2019, he dared to believe the dream he had pursued throughout his career was about to become a reality.
Hazard has never tried to disguise his ambition to fill the boots of Cristiano Ronaldo when he vacated Real Madrid’s No 7 shirt, yet claiming that prized jersey could only be the start of his story.
Succeeding at a club where expectations outstrip all others was always going to be the biggest challenge for a footballer whose brilliance hasn’t always flowed consistently – and, so far, it has proved to be beyond this gifted 30-year-old.
Injuries have played a significant role in derailing his hopes of reaching the heights that have long-since made Ronaldo one of the game’s all-time greats, but the reality is Hazard has not been up to the job in the Spanish capital.
He has managed only 20 LaLiga starts in two seasons at the club, with three goals a paltry return for a player who was so often hailed as the most gifted in the Premier League during his seven years at Chelsea.
At a club where only excellence is accepted, the news that Hazard has returned to training ahead of a potential reunion with his old Chelsea team-mates in Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final Mabarely made a side column of the Madrid newspapers yesterday.
“He is feeling much better and he is ready,” said Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane. “He wants to be back more than anyone else.
“We all know about Hazard’s qualities and the injuries have been the big problem for him at Real Madrid. I still believe he can be a success at this club.”
Zidane’s words may well fall on deaf ears with a Madrid public that has already given up on Hazard, yet this next month offers the Belgian a chance to change that narrative.
After a resurgence in form, Real Madrid are back in the mix to challenge Atletico Madrid for the Spanish title, while the prospect of a semi-final with Chelsea should be all the inspiration Hazard needs to get back on the field.
In the opinion of former Blues midfielder Joe Cole, Hazard’s failure to shine at Real Madrid can be turned around quickly if he can shake off his fitness problems and get a run of matches to prove his worth.
Cole played a big part in persuading Hazard to turn down an offer from Manchester United to sign for Chelsea having played alongside the Belgian at Lille in the 2011/12 season – and now he has told the Sunday World the damning verdicts on Hazard’s Real Madrid career are premature.
“It’s been so tough for Eden at Real Madrid,” Cole told us at a BT Sport event.
“I played with him and I know how good he is, but his body has let him down at Real Madrid. When that happens, you feel helpless as a footballer.
“He is one of the best players in the world when he is fit, but he keeps getting these setbacks that are holding him back.
“I was so excited for him to get that move to Real Madrid and join the list of great players who have represented that club, but the fans are notoriously impatient there. If you don’t make an instant impression, you can be cast aside.”
Cole went on to suggest Chelsea should be confident as they take on Real Madrid in what will be the first contest in a major European competition since the side’s faced off in the 1971 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, which was won by the Blues after a replay.
“Real Madrid have fallen a long way, so I that think Chelsea have a real chance in this match,” he added.
“When I was asked whether Chelsea would prefer Liverpool or Real Madrid in this semi-final, I said avoid Liverpool because you don’t want to play domestic rivals – and, also, this is not the Real of old.
“They have some top players and a pedigree in the Champions League that is second to none, but Liverpool made it far too easy for Toni Kroos to do what he wanted in the first leg of the quarter-final. I don’t think Chelsea will do that.
“Chelsea will press them, stop them passing, as they like to do, and if they can take their chances when they come, they can beat anyone.”
Real Madrid and Chelsea have had much in common this season, with both clubs enduring dips in form. Real’s put Zidane on the brink of the sack in the opening months of the campaign and Chelsea’s saw boss Frank Lampard lose his job in January.
Yet, both clubs are reaching the crescendo of their seasons with optimism running high, as Chelsea are looking forward to an FA Cup final against Leicester next month and have real ambitions to deliver a second Champions League title to the club’s honours board.
As for Zidane, he has engineered an impressive revival at Real Madrid, as he aims to become the first coach in history to win the biggest prize in the European game on four occasions and bring his club a 14th Champions League crown.
The absence of captain Sergio Ramos from the first leg of the semi-final against Chelsea is a blow, but Raphael Varane is back – and when Real Madrid get to this stage of the Champions League, they only think of the ultimate glory.
In a season when very little has made sense, Hazard will dare to dream that this is the moment when his Real Madrid fantasy finally becomes a reality.
Champions League glory, possibly, offers him a passport to salvation at a club that appears to be ready to move on without him if he doesn’t start producing.
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