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Keeping Faith with Eden Hazard: the Hopeful Key to Real Madrid’s Offense

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Manchester City v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Peter Powell/Pool via Getty Images

Over a year later and no one could have imagined just how underwhelming Eden Hazard’s start to his Real Madrid career would be. The Belgian has gone from dream signing and unassailable world class status to a paltry and diminishing picture of what could have been. One of the greatest offensive weapons Europe has seen in recent times has been reduced to a bleak image of endless false starts and misfires. This is the gloomiest interpretation of the puzzling situation the player and the club find themselves in. Forgetting the significant investment that brought the star winger to Spanish shores, the simple glamour and buzz that accompanied his welcome raised the expectations — fairly and unfairly — to stupefying heights. Heights that Hazard at his best or even just short of that could have perhaps never reached but heights that now seem impossibly distant in light of his subpar overall impact.

The fear — more than just the player recovering and being able to rediscover himself and his football in the Los Blancos jersey — is that the media and fans’ patience is wearing dangerously thin. There are sinister underpinnings to commentary about news updates and setbacks suffered by Hazard. A year is all it has taken for some to give up on the new galactico. It seems exceedingly too soon but considering his age as he approaches the point popularly perceived as the definitive end of a player’s best years — one can understand the nerves. Hazard will be 30 years old in January and club followers and insiders are on edge, worried that the relatively short window Real Madrid was banking on may not lead to anything fruitful. This is especially concerning for a player whose work ethic has been publicly questioned and long rumored to be less than ideal.

There are many signs that could lead one to reasonably start panicking. Hazard’s injury issues at the Bernabeu have been chronic and he didn’t necessarily hit the ground running last season. It took some time for the Belgian to find his groove and cast his spell on La Liga and Real Madrid’s European opponents. This is a valid concern and mitigation plans should be developed to help offset the effect continued individual troubles for Hazard could have on the team. However, the narrative being formed is beginning to creep into the territory that is doubting the ultimate quality and worth of Hazard as a player. There are hints that some feel that the injury issues are just shining the spotlight on what was a wasteful transfer to begin with. A not so insignificant contingent are openly expressing their lack of faith in the Ligue 1 and two time Premier League champion.

Hazard isn’t a promising talent, an unknown quantity, a burgeoning star or anything of the like. The Belgian has been one of the very best offensive players in the world over the course of his career gradually cementing himself among the prestigious elite in the game. He has a case for being the best dribbler of his generation if not in close contention for that title and his dynamic presence in attack can invigorate an entire offense. He was the protagonist of several title campaigns in France with Lille and Chelsea where he wasn’t always surrounded with the quality that matched his particular brand of spectacle. He has dominated and asserted his authority against many teams ranging from the toughest opposition down to tricky hard to break down slugfests. Hazard isn’t perfect and has suffered from severe dips in form as well as falling short of the mark in the Champions League but his resume and repertoire are unquestionable.

The answer to Real Madrid’s offensive block

More than just his incredible personal capacity, the evidence (however little) of Hazard being the possible key to unlocking Real Madrid’s full potential means that it would be irresponsible to even consider writing off the player, assuming he can regain enduring fitness. Zidane’s retouched model means that Real Madrid are still formidable without the Belgian as could be seen by their 2019-20 La Liga triumph and the strengths that have been emphasized in the tactical framework. However, it is clear to many that the club’s offense has continued to struggle to become fully unleashed and unplugged. The team doesn’t seem able to pull everything together and produce seamless and flowing football. The kind of football that would allow them to cruise through games reducing the mental and physical stress and fatigue of constant “suffering.”

The possible solution to this blocky and glitchy attack is none other than our very own no. 7. At a fundamental level, Hazard simply by virtue of his skillsets and profile as a player relieves the individual and total responsibility in offense for his teammates and the team. His game changing intentional and innate mastery of space and time provides incredible tactical value that is hard to replicate in other ways. While Vinicius, Rodrygo and Odegaard will be looking to add that dimension to the team this season — none of them can match Hazard’s level of football maturity and general class. They each are still progressing and although they possess certain attributes that make them better in specific contexts, they are still below Hazard in the football ladder.

Real Madrid can survive (possibly to even to great results) without Hazard. Zidane has demonstrated his ability to create frameworks that work for the roster and they currently sit one point from the top of the league. But in order for the team to thrive and have a chance of reaching something close to the utopic type of performance enjoyed when Ronaldo was present, it will take getting the best out of Hazard who has already given us a glimpse of the kind of influence he can exert.