Eden Hazard’s career wasn’t supposed to take such a downwards trajectory. Bought for a club record fee, Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane had counted on the Belgian to add much needed creativity and to lift the stuttering attack of the 2018-19 season. He wasn’t bought in as a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo though, far from it, and it’s important people realise this, if they haven’t already.
Never had Hazard registered a 30 goal season in all competitions, in fact, only twice had he registered 20 goal campaigns – he hit 22 with Lille in 2011-12, and 21 with Chelsea in his final season at the Blues. He has ultimately always been a player who adds 10-20 goals, but creates a ton of chances. In full flight, no one would argue Hazard isn’t one of the most entertaining footballers to watch in Europe, a mixture of pace and dribbling with end product is what Madrid’s left-side craved since the departure of Ronaldo, and although Vinicius Junior provided it in his first two seasons, and to some extent still does, the end product of the Brazilian is quite evidently not of a world class player, not yet anyway.
But Hazard’s time at Madrid will be worrying the club’s leaders a lot. His persistent injuries have meant Hazard has missed over 50 games for Los Blancos, put into perspective, 76 games are two full La Liga seasons. And there aren’t signs of his problems going away either. It therefore needs to lead to a new strategy. While still holding onto the hope that Hazard does return, the club must now focus on continuing to rebuild the club, including signing other forwards, without Hazard being in the plans.
This doesn’t mean I’m asking for Hazard to be sold. Far from it. What I’m saying is that Madrid must avoid looking at Hazard as the answer, which they may have done in 2019. They have to continue transitioning as they have been, and while doing that, any impact from the 30-year old over the next two season would be most welcome. But he cannot be the focus anymore. The club is in a very delicate situation in their transition, far too much time has already been lost. Since Ronaldo’s departure, Real are down between 40-50 goals on their season total on average, which needs urgent attention.
Several reliable journalists have reported Madrid aim to do something significant this summer. David Alaba looks close to being a done deal, which is definitely a good start. Marca’s Jose Felix Diaz reported that Jorge de Frutos could return to the club, with the academy player filling in the role which Lucas Vazquez is seemingly going to leave behind when he leaves Madrid as a free-agent this summer. The midfield is an important area where Real are clearly suffering this season. Fede Valverde’s injuries haven’t helped, meaning Zinedine Zidane only has four midfielders to choose from, and one of them is Isco – who the Frenchman has seemingly lost faith in. So the midfield needs additions and fresh ideas.
It looks like there could be news about the future of Eduardo Camavinga after the Under-21 European Championships, a midfielder with a lot of talent, which would be a really impressive coup from the club to sign him this summer. His performances haven’t been as good as they were last season, but that only works in Madrid’s favour, with one-year left on his Rennes contract, it doesn’t look like the Frenchman will extend his stay in Ligue 1. That signing would be welcomed because he’s more than capable of playing a squad role. But the two key additions for Madrid this summer would undoubtedly be Martin Ødegaard and his countryman Erling Haaland, or Kylian Mbappe. Ødegaard has already demonstrated his vast quality at Arsenal in his short-term loan there, and the Spanish club needs to ensure that this loan remains a short as it was originally designed to be.
Zidane definitely made a mistake by not giving the Norwegian regular appearances, to the point that the 22-year old lost confidence. I’m usually someone who gives Zidane the benefit of doubt, but there is no excusing his lack of clarity when it comes to Ødegaard. He reportedly rang the midfielder when he was at Real Sociedad and convinced him he would be a crucial first team player, leading to Ødegaard cutting his two-year loan in half, to rejoin his parent club. So I don’t understand why he didn’t get enough opportunities? There were so many ways Zidane could have involved Ødegaard, especially considering he has regularly gone with four midfielders in the past. Also, the fact that Madrid’s right-wing is virtually non-existent, so why couldn’t Ødegaard play in that role as an inverted right-winger? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and Zidane doesn’t have any excuse for his handling of the star, other than of course his knee-injury, but even that has been debunked, because he now features regularly for Mikel Arteta.
With reports now linking Haaland to Madrid, Ødegaard’s relationship with his countryman could clearly play a huge role in the signing of the Borussia Dortmund superstar. You imagine, this current Madrid with the addition of Alaba, De Frutos, Camavinga, Ødegaard and Haaland, that’s a ridiculously impressive window for a squad that needs a major revamp this summer. But one thing is for certain, Ødegaard’s return needs to happen regardless of Haaland’s future, and Haaland’s signing needs to happen regardless of Ødegaard returning. Ultimately, this is the summer where Madrid need to move away from relying on Hazard as the savior, and instead, continue their plans on investing in ready-made players. And should Hazard eventually shake off these injuries, he can only serve as a beautiful bonus.
Column by Muddassir Hussain | Follow me on Twitter: @muddassirjourno