When their FIFA transfer ban ends this summer Real Madrid will move strongly in the transfer market, especially as this is an election year and club president Florentino Perez will want to strengthen his standing. And currently Chelsea’s Eden Hazard looks like the most likely new attacking galactico to arrive at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
The biggest priority at the moment at Madrid remains a new goalkeeper, given current number 1 Keylor Navas’ erratic form this season, and Unibet recently covered their tracking of both Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois and Manchester United’s David De Gea.
There is also clear potential for a shake-up further forward. The futures of Isco, Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez are very uncertain, with all three unhappy to varying extents at the amount of the time they are spending on the bench as coach Zinedine Zidane favours the ‘BBC’ of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Perez’s initial preference was apparently Juventus’ emerging star Paulo Dybala, and there were talks between the club’s representatives and the player’s agents. But the Argentina international seems set to sign a new contract with Juve, as he wants to ensure regular football ahead of World Cup 2018.
That has led to Hazard’s name recurring in the Spanish media speculation. Often mentioned in these stories are past quotes from Zidane talking of his admiration for the former Lille starlet whose early career progress he followed very closely. And vice-versa with the Belgium international having clearly idolised the France World Cup winner growing up.
Meanwhile reports in London say that Hazard is very happy under current Blues manager Antonio Conte, and especially likes the team’s 3-4-3 formation which gives him the freedom to play his best football.
Conte clearly wants to keep his team’s key playmaker, and said recently that there was no way Chelsea would want to sell, at any price. “I think Eden, for sure, is a great player,” the Italian said. “A top player. He's in a level very high. But I don't see the problem, because we don't want to sell him. He hasn't a price now.”
Then again, Spain’s big two have a tendency to get what they want in the transfer market. Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez were all the Premier League’s best player, and then felt an irresistible pull even with their former clubs being desperate to keep them.
Speaking on Spanish radio show El Partidazo after Chelsea’s 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final win over Manchester United on Monday evening, Blues striker Diego Costa gave an indication of how the top players react when Madrid or Barcelona come calling.
“We all know Hazard is a top world class player,” Costa said. “Barcelona or Madrid would go for him of course. When a team like that knocks at your door, you think about it. It’s not a surprise that people put their eyes on him, but he is happy here.”
Another factor to consider is that Hazard’s clear best position, a free role on the left side of the front three, is exactly where Cristiano Ronaldo has spent most of his career. Although the now 32-year-old has become more of a penalty box predator, keeping the sensitive Portuguese happy remains a priority at the Bernabeu. Bale was initially billed as Madrid’s long-term solution on the left-wing, but has played most of his football on the right since joining in 2013.
Finances must also come into the equation. Hazard, 26, has three years left on his Chelsea contract and will not come cheap. A transfer fee of €80 million plus is quite likely. Recent big money arrivals at the Bernabeu have usually been accompanied with the sale of a player who had just become surplus to requirements. Mesut Ozil was sold to Arsenal when Bale arrived from Spurs, Angel Di Maria needed to go to Manchester United balance the books after James joined from Monaco in 2014.
Well-informed Spanish radio station COPE claimed recently that a swap deal involving James moving to Chelsea was a possibility. Morata is another player who is often linked with the Stamford Bridge outfit, and the young Spaniard worked profitably with Conte at Juventus in the past. Swap deals of such magnitude are very uncommon at the top level, but some wheeling and dealing could be done.
All of which means that Hazard to Madrid could well happen this summer, although the pieces will all have to fall into place for the transfer to go through. Key to any deal would be Hazard - like Ronaldo, Bale and Suarez before him - coming out and actually agitating for a move.... That might seem unlikely, but last November he let slip in an interview that the best circumstances to leave Chelsea would be on the back of a title win.
“If I ever leave, it’ll be after winning a championship,” Hazard said then. “You need to go out on a high so that people remember you for the right reasons.”
Given Chelsea’s current 10 point lead in the table, a second Premier League medal for their number 10 looks quite likely in the coming months. Blues fans will of course want to see their team lift the trophy, but they should be quite worried about what might happen next.