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Chelsea Transfer Rumor Analysis: Eden Hazard

Homecoming in the cards?

Chelsea v Arsenal - UEFA Europa League Final Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

No one expected Eden Hazard’s time at Real Madrid to go as poorly as it has. Rather than seamlessly filling Cristiano Ronaldo’s goalscoring boots and leading the team to yet another Champions League title, his dream move has deteriorated into an injury-filled nightmare. He has lost his starting spot, seen Madrid get eliminated by Chelsea (en route to his former team lifting the Big Ears trophy), and now been told not so subtly to find a new team. Madrid are once again doing their transfer business in the press and are keen to link him with a Premier League return, with Chelsea and nouveau-riche Newcastle the main options being bandied about.

Hazard is a Chelsea legend after delivering scintillating performances and loads of trophies during his time at Stamford Bridge. But could he recapture his old form by coming home? In order for him to return, the move would need to make sense for Chelsea, Madrid, and Hazard himself. Let’s break down the pros and cons for each party.


Would this move make sense for Real Madrid?

Absolutely. Madrid have an absolute fortune invested in Hazard and are getting almost nothing for it. Getting him off their books — even at a big loss — would be helpful. While their finances haven’t taken as big of a hit as Barcelona’s during the pandemic, they are still hurting and simply cannot afford to carry Hazard, especially if they want to add high-earners like Kylian Mbappé, Paul Pogba, and Antonio Rüdiger in the summer.

But the big question is how much relief Madrid could get. There is really no way they are going to get anyone to pay a transfer fee and take on Hazard’s salary of almost £400,000 per week. There are almost no teams in the world that can afford that in the first place, and certainly no teams that would be willing to pay that for much for his current level of performance. However, as we have seen in the past with Gareth Bale in particular, Madrid will do loan deals and move players at a loss for even small levels of financial relief. One way or another, they will do their best to move Hazard.

Real Madrid CF v CA Osasuna - La Liga Santander Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Would this move make sense for Chelsea?

Eden Hazard at his best is a brilliant player and a joy to watch. He scores goals, creates goals, and rises to the biggest occasions. He is impossible to stop and can go past even the best defenders (or full teams like Arsenal).

He is Premier League-proven and has performed at the highest European levels. He can play any position across the front line, including striker, without missing a beat. He is equally effective at breaking down deep defenses and playing on the counterattack. He could improve the Chelsea attack by opening up spaces for others — he would be another player who could play quick passes in tight spaces around the box, punishing teams that focus on (his international teammate) Romelu Lukaku. He is also an incredible outlet to progress the ball from deep, making the transition from defense to offense lightning quick.

But we can’t ignore the big question — does the Eden Hazard that we know and love still exist? Unfortunately, it seems like that player is gone forever. Age and injuries have sapped Eden of his strength and explosiveness, and he simply isn’t the same player he was five years ago. He spends significant amounts of time in the treatment room, and even when he plays he doesn’t produce. During his 2+ seasons in Madrid, he has appeared in less than half their games and scored only five goals. He’s never been a player that loved training or a disciplined lifestyle, so unlike someone like Cristiano Ronaldo he was likely to deteriorate faster after age 30, and he’s not proving that notion incorrect.

The simple answer, based on cost and performance, is that bringing Eden Hazard back would make no sense for Chelsea. However, the question gets far more interesting if we consider the situation more carefully. We know that Madrid are desperate to move Hazard, so we would not have to pay “full cost”. We could very likely get him on a 6-month loan (in January) or a 12-month loan (in the summer) and would probably only need to cover half his wages (or less). Similar to Saúl, we could even include a buy-option at a reasonable price (say £30 to £50 million) to sweeten the deal. Our financial outlay would be limited if Hazard couldn’t recover his form, while the upside could be very big.

FBL-EUR-C1-CHELSEA-REAL MADRID Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

Beyond the finances, we would also need to get him healthy. Fortunately, Chelsea have one of the best medical teams in the game, and we are familiar with Hazard’s needs. In addition, Thomas Tuchel is very good at managing player workloads to maximize performance and availability (see N’Golo Kanté and Thiago Silva). We could certainly expect Hazard to be healthier at Chelsea than at Madrid.

Lastly, we would need to level set appropriate expectations. Bringing him back with the idea that he would start at left wing and dominate, would be a big mistake. I would be very excited to see him play as a No.10 or second striker in a 3-5-2, especially when we are playing more offensively. He still has incredible ball control and vision, and could create a ton of goals for Lukaku, our midfielders (Mount and Loftus-Cheek particularly), and our wingbacks. He could also play with any combination of our attacking players as all of them have the skills and movement needed to play off of him. He would add a unique surgical weapon for Tuchel to deploy, and if managed properly, he could be a huge asset to the team.

Based on the expected costs, the role he could fill, and Tuchel’s tactical skills, bringing Hazard back is a move with high potential upside and very limited downside for Chelsea. So it would make a lot of sense for Chelsea to pursue a move.


Chelsea v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Leg Two Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Would this move make sense for Hazard?

This would probably be the best possible outcome for him. He would be playing for a club and a fanbase who love him. He would be playing a defined role for one of the best managers in the world, and would have the best chance of recapturing his best form (as unlikely as that may be). He would get out of his current nightmare without having to give up any of the financial benefits. He would also have the chance to continue to win trophies, including the Champions League.


What is the competition?

With Madrid heavily subsidizing the cost, there are a number of teams that could be interested in Hazard. However, most of them would be a significant step down in terms of potential to win trophies (mid-table Premier League teams, Serie A, etc.). And very few teams would have the patience and financial ability to use him in a smaller, more narrowly defined limited role to maximize his chances of success.

Newcastle have been quite heavily linked based on their new ownership, but a move to them makes far less sense for Hazard. He would have to carry a bad team and would essentially be set up to fail. There are other elite teams that could offer him a limited role similar to Chelsea (Juventus, Manchester City), but it’s hard to see any of them allowing him as much time to assimilate, or being more appealing to Hazard than returning home to Chelsea.

Verdict?

Eden Hazard returning to Chelsea has a very good chance of happening. I think he would leap at the chance and I think the move makes sense for the club if the cost is (relatively) low.

I expect a (heavily-subsidized) loan move to happen in January. Once he’s back at home and feeling loved, I think he has a good chance of quickly recapturing his form and making key contributions to a title push in the spring.

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