Eden Hazard’s best years are passing him by, with his “dream move” to Real Madrid turning out to be a mirage for both player and club, in every way except financially.
Now, the forward must seriously consider the chance to escape the Santiago Bernabeu to stop his career drying out entirely, becoming a forever what-might-have-been.
The Belgian’s impact since his transfer from Chelsea in 2019, which came at the perfect time for both parties, has been negligible.
Madrid were happy to overpay for a player with just a year left on his contract because they had fallen far from their perch, 19 points behind 2018-19 champions Barcelona, and badly needed a Cristiano Ronaldo replacement.
So, Hazard arrived for an initial €100 million (£88m/$112m), although Belgian newspaper HLN later reported that the true cost of the deal had been €160m (£133m/$182m).
Hazard, who had long relished the idea of moving to Spain, seemed ready to shine on the biggest stage of all and go on to win the Ballon d’Or to which his enormous talent could legitimately aspire.
Instead, two-and-a-half seasons later, Hazard finds himself a virtual outcast in the Spanish capital.
Vinicius Junior is now the present and the future, while Hazard is a costly relic of the past, similarly to Philippe Coutinho at Madrid’s rivals Barcelona.
The Catalans found him a loan move to Aston Villa, and Madrid hope Hazard follows the Brazilian’s path back to the Premier League.
Hazard turned down Newcastle United this week, per El Nacional, after the relegation stragglers allegedly had a €40m (£33m/$45m) offer accepted by Madrid.
The report suggests Hazard would prefer a more glamorous destination, although there may not be too many other clubs capable of paying his wages.
The forward has recently become a father again and is not said to be keen on uprooting his family midway through the season, with the summer potentially a more realistic time to change clubs. His current contract ends in 2024.
However, his playing options are narrowing, with Rodrygo and Marco Asensio ahead of him in the pecking order on the right flank, which isn’t even his favoured starting spot.
Hazard has not scored this season and Marca say that Madrid want him gone at the latest by the start of next season, when they plan to have Kylian Mbappe and even Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland too.
Madrid fans are apathetic towards him, viewing Hazard as less problematic than the other expensive injury-prone winger in their ranks, Gareth Bale, although 54 per cent voted for him to leave in January according to Marca poll with over 52,000 votes, while a further 15% said they wanted him to leave in June.
It may be better for Hazard’s international career to get regular game time in the second half of the season, with Belgium aiming to win the 2022 World Cup.
“His lack of matches is a concern,” noted coach Roberto Martinez in December.
If Hazard is unwilling to find an escape from Madrid in the short-term, he will still be given opportunities on occasion by Ancelotti, likely starting with Thursday’s Copa del Rey clash against Elche.
“Nothing strange has happened [with Hazard and Bale], there’s a lot of competition in the team and the coach has to choose the best players for every game,” Ancelotti said on Wednesday.
“I try to be fair and choose the best. Sometimes, you’re very good and you don’t play. Hazard, physically, has been fit for a month and a half.
“I don’t have to give advice to Hazard. He has the character and experience to decide himself and, by the way, the quality that both of them have could help us a lot. I hope the second half of the season is better.
“At the moment, he is still a Real Madrid player. He is training, he is focused on the games, so we have nothing else to think about.”
It was a diplomatic comment from the Italian coach, who speaks far more bluntly with his team selections. Hazard started just one Champions League game, the 2-1 defeat by minnows Sheriff, and has played only 569 minutes in La Liga this season.
He did not make it onto the pitch in Saudi Arabia for the Spanish Super Cup matches against Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao.
Hazard brought supporters years of joy in west London, the Premier League’s finest player during a significant stint of his time at Chelsea, but he is not feeling any of it himself at Madrid out in the cold.
He won La Liga in the 2019-20 season, but his contribution was negligible, while the Champions League has eluded his grasp.
As Madrid celebrated their first trophy of the season, Hazard looked miserable.
Forgetting his lofty ambitions when he arrived, if he does not move now, he may be missing one of the last opportunities to make himself happy.