The demise of Eden Hazard: From Chelsea icon to Real Madrid's worst-ever signing

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Having been released by Madrid in June, reports now suggest that the 32-year-old is set to retire following his spate of injury problems

How did we get here? Eden Hazard made a massive-money move from Chelsea to Real Madrid in June 2019, and appeared poised to be the next face of La Liga, the latest Galactico to walk out at Santiago Bernabeu and impose himself as one of Europe's greats.

Los Blancos, remember, had lost Cristiano Ronaldo a year previous, and with Gareth Bale struggling for fitness and Vinicius Jr. yet to find his feet, Hazard seemed set to be Madrid's winger of the future. And at 28, he still had plenty of football left.

Four years later, Hazard isn't in a Madrid shirt anymore. He might not even play football again. The Belgian scored just seven goals, and added a meagre 12 assists during his injury-ravaged spell in the Spanish capital. He only managed 76 appearances, and over four years, failed to better the production of his best season at Stamford Bridge. To say that he was a disappointment was an understatement.

Some of this, of course, was of Hazard's own making. The winger was irresponsible at times, failing to look after himself and drawing the ire of Madrid fans for a questionable commitment to the shirt. But he was also immensely unlucky, a victim of a recurring ankle injury that limited the trickery and explosiveness of his earlier days.

It all amounted to an opportunity wasted, transfer budget spurned, and - as he considers retirement at 32 - a career potentially cut short for a player who should have been one of the game's greats. GOAL takes a look at where it all went wrong for Hazard at Madrid...

  1. June 2019: Big-money move

    June 2019: Big-money move

    Despite having been their poster boy for over half a decade, Chelsea were effectively powerless to keep Hazard when he left for Real Madrid in June 2019. He had only one year left on his contract, and amid something of a stand-off, Los Blancos were able to swoop in.

    The result was a massive initial €100 million (£88m/$107m) transfer agreement, and subsequent €600,000(£530,000/$640,000)-per-week salary.

  2. July 2019: Showing up overweight
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    July 2019: Showing up overweight

    The Belgian hardly made a good impression at the nexus of his Madrid career. Hazard showed up to training overweight, a fact that served as instant ammunition for social media trolls and sceptics.

    He later admitted that he was five kilograms heavier than he should have been, and revealed that he tends to gain and lose weight frequently, especially during pre-season.

  3. October 2019: Early form

    October 2019: Early form

    His intial performances on the pitch, though, quashed any notions that his fitness would be an immediate issue. Hazard needed a few weeks to bed in, but by October was fit and firing for Los Blancos.

    He played crucial roles in a duo of La Liga contests, starring against first Eiber and then Real Sociedad. While he didn't score or assist in either, the Hazard of Chelsea — mazy dribbles, incisive passes and all — was well on display.

  4. November 2019: One foul changes things

    November 2019: One foul changes things

    The foul that would go on to change the course of Hazard's footballing career didn't appear to be serious. Paris Saint-Germain's Thomas Meunier, his Belgium team-mate, swept Hazard's legs as he spun away from the full-back. Hazard's ankle got trapped awkwardly under Meunier's foot, and he could hardly walk as he was escorted off the pitch.

    Unfortunately for Hazard, Meunier had taken out an ankle that had been a cause of persistent pain. He had fractured it a few years before, and although he made a full recovery, something was now clearly wrong.

  5. March 2020: Ankle surgery
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    March 2020: Ankle surgery

    Hazard was in and out of the line-up for the remainder of the campaign as he made it back in time for what should have been the run-in, returning in early February. But he would soon reaggravate his ankle injuuy, and needed surgery to fix things in March.

    The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that he didn't miss too many games, but he looked an entirely different player upon his return.

  6. September 2020: Return stalled
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    September 2020: Return stalled

    The following season should have brought rebirth. Hazard had, theoretically at least, entirely recovered from the operation he underwent in March, and after a summer of training, figured to be ready to strut his stuff in Madrid white.

    But another injury nightmare struck, when Hazard picked up a muscle problem that would rule him out for a month — and continue to bother him throughout the 2020-21 campaign.

  7. January 2021: Supercopa flop piles pressure on
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    January 2021: Supercopa flop piles pressure on

    After a return that was stalled by a positive Covid test, Hazard seemed ready to make his mark in Madrid again. The forum for his supposed resurrection was the Spanish Super Cup semi-final against Athletic Club, a game which Hazard started for the heavily-favoured side.

    Instead, Hazard endured a miserable outing, and was replaced in the second half by Vinicius, who soon went on a fine run of form, one that would see him secure his spot in the Marid XI — and leave Hazard on the outside looking in.

  8. February 2021: Staying long-term
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    February 2021: Staying long-term

    But the Belgian was not deterred. A month later, he insisted that he planned to play for "at least another five or six years" and vowed to fight for his spot in Madrid's team. His situation was made difficult, though, by the pressure on manager Zinedine Zidane, who looked increasingly likely to leave the club at season's end.

  9. March 2021: Ignoring advice

    March 2021: Ignoring advice

    All the while, Hazard was continuously bothered by his ankle — which had never really fully healed. A few years before, the Belgian had a metal plate inserted into his foot to help a fracture heal, and it was starting to bother him.

    The Belgium national team doctor advised Hazard to have another operation, something the player himself also vouched for. Madrid, though, told him to play through it, according to Marca.

  10. May 2021: That post-match laugh

    Hazard admitted before Real Madrid's Champions League semi-final clash with Chelsea that it would be difficult to play against his old team-mates. It seemed understandable at the time; Hazard had enjoyed immense success at Stamford Bridge. However, the Belgian took it a bit far for Madridistas' taste.

    He was pictured having a giggle with a few Chelsea players after the contest, drawing the ire of both fans and media, with infamous late-night talk show 'El Chiringuito' producing an iconic opening as they took aim at the Belgian's apparent lack of respect of his own club.

  11. May 2021: Heading to the Euros
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    May 2021: Heading to the Euros

    Despite his bit-part role at the Bernabeu, Hazard stayed relevant enough to be involved for his national team. He was a fitness doubt right up until the start of the pandemic-delayed Euro 2020, but made the squad for Roberto Martinez, featuring alongside an also-doubtful Kevin De Bruyne in what figured to be Belgium's 'golden generation's' last chance at glory.

  12. June 2021: Another injury kills Belgium's dream
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    June 2021: Another injury kills Belgium's dream

    But it wasn't meant to be, and the Red Devils crashed out to eventual winners Italy in the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, Hazard watched from the bench after picking up another knock.

    Whether his inclusion would have made a difference is hard to tell. At that point, he hadn't played regular football for 18 months. Still, it's natural to think that Belgium would've had more of a chance with their talismanic winger on the pitch.

  13. July 2021: Up for sale

    July 2021: Up for sale

    There have been many victims of Madrid's relentless, and still fruitless, pursuit of Kylian Mbappe, and Hazard was supposed to be one of them. Los Blancos were reportedly willing to sell him in 2021, hoping to both clear space and raise funds for the PSG star. Chelsea were supposedly interested in securing his services — but no move materialised.

  14. August 2021: Bright start under Ancelotti

    August 2021: Bright start under Ancelotti

    Zidane left Madrid prior to the 2021-22 season — a decision that suited all parties. His replacement, Carlo Ancelotti, raised a few eyebrows, but ultimately made sense. Madrid needed an excellent man-manager who could get the best out of their immensely talented squad.

    And in his early days, the legendary Italian boss decided to give Hazard a chance. The results were positive, with Hazard keeping Vinicius out of the line-up for the first few weeks of the campaign. But as soon as his form dipped, Vinicius jumped in — and held onto the starting spot for good.

  15. October 2021: Shown the door
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    October 2021: Shown the door

    It became clear reasonably quickly that Hazard was expendable. Karim Benzema and Vinicius formed a formidable partnership up front for Madrid, and Los Blancos were tearing through both domestic and continental opponents with ease.

    The expensive Hazard was not only unlikely to feature, but also pushing some of Madrid's other bright young talents out of contention. Ancelotti, accordingly, told the Belgian he was welcome to seek a move elsewhere.

  16. March 2022: More surgery

    March 2022: More surgery

    But he stuck around. Besides, he wasn't fit enough to either appear for Madrid or encourage another team to pick him up.

    It all culminated in Hazard finally getting the operation sorted that he had been pushing for since March 2021. The Belgian had the plate in his ankle removed, a surgery that effectively ended his chances of playing in La Liga for the rest of the season.

  17. May 2022: Champions League winner
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    May 2022: Champions League winner

    Perhaps Hazard's final success in a Madrid shirt was in a game he didn't appear in. The Belgian was barely fit enough to make the bench for the 2022 Champions League final, and watched from the sideline as Vinicius — the player who had booted him from the XI just nine months previously — scored the winner against Liverpool. Hazard, though, still collected a winner's medal.

  18. November 2022: Finally on the way out?

    November 2022: Finally on the way out?

    After spending three years denying the flurry of exit rumours that seemed to follow him around the Spanish capital, Hazard finally admitted that it may be time to leave the club. He offered little insight as to where he might go, but with MLS interest reported, and Ancelotti apparently willing to show him the door, an exit seemed close.

  19. April 2023: A rare run-out

    April 2023: A rare run-out

    Hazard, though, would stay put in the January transfer window, despite repeated suggestions that he could move overseas — or even make a shock return to the Premier League.

    With his immediate future now known, there began to be whispers that Hazard was fit and prepared to play again. He proved as such, coming off the bench — and grabbing an assist — in Madrid's drubbing of Real Valladolid in early April.

  20. May 2023: Back in the line-up

    May 2023: Back in the line-up

    It took Hazard a month to break into the XI. Still, he managed it, named among a weakened Madrid team against Getafe as Ancelotti opted to rest a number of senior players ahead of Los Blancos' Champions League semi-final clash with Manchester City.

    He turned in a middling performance, at the very least eating valuable minutes in a 1-0 win.

  21. June 2023: Departure confirmed
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    June 2023: Departure confirmed

    But there wouldn't be another start. That might have, in fact, been the last full appearance of the Belgian's career. In early June, Hazard announced that he planned to leave Madrid in the summer, and agreed on a mutual contract termination.

    In doing so, Hazard forfeited a large part of his salary, ending what was a miserable four-year stay at the Bernabeu.

  22. August 2023: Retirement next?

    August 2023: Retirement next?

    Since then, there has been some speculation that the Belgian could seek a move elsewhere. There are reportedly suitors across the globe, from MLS to the Saudi Pro League. There even remains an outside chance at top-flight European football.

    But Hazard has reportedly spurned every offer, and, according to various reports, has little interest in playing top-level football again. Nothing has been made official yet, but it seems that what should have been a legendary career is set to come to a premature end.