Some Real Madrid supporters enjoyed Eden Hazard’s celebrations during El Clasico, leaping off the bench as Lucas Vazquez netted the second goal against rivals Barcelona last weekend.
Others bemoaned his transition from €140 million (£118.5m/$163m) star to glorified cheerleader.
Carlo Ancelotti is in the latter camp.
The Blancos boss gave Hazard a fair crack of the whip at the start of the season and saw some solid, if not eyebrow-raising performances, but Vinicius Junior has blown the Belgian out of the water.
The Brazilian winger has been electric on the left flank for Madrid and is making good on the immense potential he has. Hazard, meanwhile, has squandered his opportunity at Madrid.
Injuries have plagued the former Chelsea attacker, but he’s not currently hurt, as Ancelotti made painfully clear ahead of Wednesday’s drab goalless draw against Osasuna.
It is a classic vicious cycle. For Hazard, he needs minutes to pick up form. For Ancelotti, Hazard needs form to earn minutes.
Ancelotti brought Hazard off the bench against Osasuna on Wednesday night, but the 30-year-old could not unpick the Basques’ tightly-woven defence.
It was exactly the type of clash where Hazard should have been vital, breaking down Madrid’s opponents and adding to what should be an already sizeable goal tally ahead of November’s Ballon d’Or ceremony, where he should have been in contention for football’s greatest individual accolade.
Instead, he remains a ghostly presence.
“What was extremely alarming was that it was eight minutes before Hazard even touched the ball, and his first act was a cross then went straight into the legs of a defender, causing no danger to the Osasuna backline,” complained Spanish newspaper Marca.
“For a player who used to take over Premier League matches and win them on his own, it was startling how Hazard would only touch the ball eight more times over the course of his 25-minute cameo.”
Most of his 52 appearances for Los Blancos have been similarly disappointing. He has scored just five goals, one every 10.4 games, in comparison to 110 for Chelsea in 352 games, one every 3.2.
Back then, he was touted as a player who might one day be considered the best in the world, when Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo began to decline, but Hazard has gone backwards.
Madrid signed him in 2019 when he had only one year left on his contract at Stamford Bridge, in an unsuccessful break from their recent policy of acquiring younger, rawer talent rather than established superstars.
“Every minute he plays is at the price of gold,” noted La Vanguardia, with Hazard’s the second highest salary in the squad. Injuries had their way with him, suddenly striking after years of abuse from Premier League defenders while at Chelsea, and suddenly he struggled to string together a run of appearances.
Some blame lies with the player, who arrived unfit and overweight, as if signing for Real Madrid was the endgame of his career rather than the start of the most challenging and potentially most rewarding chapter.
Part of the blame for his decline also lies with compatriot Thomas Meunier, whose clumsy tackle in November 2019 while playing for Paris Saint-Germain set Hazard back both physically and mentally, damaging his ankle. That injury dragged on and on.
President Florentino Perez had signed Hazard to replace Cristiano Ronaldo’s contribution and become his superstar in a way the Portuguese never could, having being signed by predecessor Ramon Calderon.
But the dream-turned-nightmare is almost over for Perez and Hazard, with increasing speculation that he could leave in the winter transfer window.
Unsurprisingly Newcastle, with their new money, have been linked, as have Chelsea – although there seems little chance of a return to Stamford Bridge.
“Madrid have waited two years for him to reach his top level,” said former Real Madrid striker Fernando Morientes. “This year was a year in which the club, the fans and his team-mates expected the best Hazard but he hasn't started in the best way possible. Real Madrid may have to decide they won't wait any more.”
Perhaps Hazard will start against Elche on Saturday in La Liga, allowing Vinicius to rest for the Champions League clash with Shakhtar Donetsk.
Hazard does not have long to save his Real Madrid career, though. Madrid want to make room for Kylian Mbappe's expected arrival next summmer.
One PSG player contributed to Hazard’s failure at Madrid, and the Spanish club may get their revenge by capturing a generational talent from the Ligue 1 side as his replacement.