Real Madrid’s stranglehold over the transfer market has been such a familiar narrative over the last two decades that last summer seemed like a whimper.
But fear not, spoiled Madrid fans, this summer is set to get the pulses racing a little faster. Zinedine Zidane’s side are set to rekindle their long-gesticulating interest in David de Gea and will also attempt to lure Eden Hazard away from Chelsea in what would be a devastating double-whammy capture of Premier League talent.
Hazard is a particularly interesting one. It’s become customary for Madrid to start any given season with an immeasurably talented trident in attack and, with Gareth Bale’s future the subject of mounting speculation, Hazard seems like a natural passage.
The Belgian’s hypnotic blend of mazy dribbling, rapidity and cutting edge are the ingredients required to make the Bernabeu crowd swoon, but it may not be quite that simple.
Will Hazard leave Chelsea?
If it were any other club, we would be saying surely not. However, given the endless attraction of Madrid to football’s elite superstars coupled with the preposterous resources powering the La Liga giants, it’s feasible that Hazard will ruminate deeply over his future if overtures are made.
Leaving Chelsea wouldn’t be easy for Hazard. He has spent five thoroughly productive seasons at Stamford Bridge, yielding two Premier League winners’ medals, a League Cup and a Europa League. During that time he’s been named the Premier League Player of the Season and the PFA Players’ Player of the Year.
Better yet, he’s adored by the Chelsea supporters and has enjoyed a thrilling resurgence under Antonio Conte after enduring an indifferent 2015/16 campaign.
Leaving the club that helped transform him into one of Europe’s most menacing attackers would be difficult, especially given the Blues' trajectory under Conte’s tutelage.
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However, with the prospect of playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, under Zidane and for the sport’s most prestige club, the gravitational pull may be too intense to resist for the 26-year-old.
Chelsea fans will be forgiven for nervously refreshing their Twitter feeds throughout the summer until the transfer window shuts, dreading any development which suggests that a Hazard switch is probable.
United fans will tell you that, unfortunately, Madrid usually get what they want.
Would Hazard be an upgrade on Bale?
There would be a certain twisted fate should Hazard replace Bale at Madrid. Just last summer, Hazard could be heard showering lavish praise on the Welshman after his country knocked Belgium out of the Euros. Wales, both inspired and deadly, stunned Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation', with Bale a pervading influence throughout.
Hazard, on the other hand, was left to reflect painfully on a night of high torment for him and his nation, a crushing end to his own personally disappointing season.
To his credit, Hazard has recovered to add a thrilling edge to Chelsea’s title canter, and there would be a sense of redemption should he be the one to sound the death knell on Bale’s time at Madrid.
But would Hazard necessarily be an upgrade on Bale? There has long been a suggestion that Hazard, while showing flashes of genius throughout his career, has never quite belonged in the same bracket as the Welshman.
Perhaps what separates them is that Bale moved to Madrid right as he was ascending, allowing him to provide a devastating dimension to their attack and become a double Champions League winner.
Hazard does compare favourably to Bale this season, perhaps unsurprising given the latter’s injury woes have disrupted his own progress.
With 2.32 chances created per game, Hazard has been precisely twice as creative as Bale this season. He also completed 77% of his take-ons, which dwarves Bale’s 48% and has averaged 2.18 key passes to Bale’s 1.05.
Unquestionably, Hazard has rode the crest of a wave for much of this season, maintaining an excellent level of performance that has helped form a gulf between Chelsea and the rest.
With 15 league goals, this season has been Hazard’s most prolific but he has never quite reached Bale’s tallies. In his final season at Tottenham Hotspur, Bale scored 26 in 44 appearances, before adding 22, 17 and 19 in his first three in the Spanish capital.
However, with Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Morata in the attacking ranks, Madrid would certainly look to Hazard more for a creative spark rather than mirroring Ronaldo or Bale’s goal-getting exploits.
Of course, there is the distinct possibility that joining Madrid, an exceptionally dangerous attacking force, could elevate Hazard as a goal-scorer.
Would Hazard fit in Zidane’s system?
In a word, yes. Zidane’s purported plan is to accommodate Hazard in his favoured left-wing position, with Ronaldo as the No 9. The Portuguese star has reconfigured his game to make him an effective penalty box striker, so having Hazard’s powers of creation on the left would be a tantalising prospect indeed.
Since the 2014/15 season, Hazard has completed more take-ons than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues, eclipsing even Lionel Messi and Neymar.
There is no question that he is worthy of starting in Madrid’s frontline as he possesses that coveted ability of changing the pace of a game in a heartbeat.
Benzema can’t offer that and Ronaldo’s pace isn’t quite what it was, so there is scope to add Hazard’s exhilarating change of pace and direction that regularly terrorises defenders.
It should be noted too that Madrid favour a rapid counter-attacking style and Hazard, as he proved against Arsenal this season, is arguably the most productive player in such a scenario.
The Belgian is as devastating as anyone with space to work with, something he would find regularly at Madrid. Also, in currently operating at the peak of his powers and, at 26, if there was ever the perfect time to ‘move to a higher level,’ it would be now.
With the consistent ability to beat his man, create chances and finish clinically, Hazard ticks all the right boxes for Madrid.
His attributes would breathe exciting new life into Madrid’s attack, which has already conjured up 96 league goals this season and would plunge Bale’s future at Real into darkness, should the Belgian usurp him in Zidane’s team.
Even with a dazzling array of attacking talent on their payroll, Hazard seems to be the man primed to add further stardust to Madrid.