Eden Hazard has spoken. Well, sort of.
As reported by Goal, the Chelsea star is hopeful that he can make a mega-money move to Real Madrid in the summer but, as yet, he's not telling anyone about it. Not publicly, anyway.
As we near the end of Hazard’s seventh season at Stamford Bridge, he is in the curious position of being one of the most admired players in the division and yet you still feel we haven't seen the very best of him.
Since joining Chelsea in 2012 the Belgian has won the Premier League twice, one Europa League, an FA Cup and a League Cup. A decent haul but indicative of Chelsea's stop-start existence in the 2010s. Challenge for the title one season, fall out of the Champions League places the next.
At the age of 28, the Belgian's CV from his time in England is less impressive than Cristiano Ronaldo's when he left for Real Madrid at 24 (three Premier Leagues, an FA Cup, two League Cups, a Champions League and a Club World Cup).
Indeed, Real built their dominance of the Champions League in the 2010s on the foundations Ronaldo gave them; summer 2019 surely represents Hazard’s last major chance to reinvigorate his career and create a personal legacy.
The 2018-19 narrative is that Hazard returned from Belgium's upbeat World Cup in peak form but faded as autumn and winter progressed. Chelsea’s strong start under Maurizio Sarri gave way to their current situation: in and around fourth place but a long way adrift of the top three.
The reality is that in January Hazard became the third fastest player in Premier League history to reach double figures for both goals and assists in a single season, behind only Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal in 2009-10 and Dennis Bergkamp at the same club 12 years earlier.
This is elite-level production from a player who too often has had to do too much himself.
Fastest to 10+ goals & assists in a single season
The other main theme of Hazard’s experiences in England has been a consistent exposure to punishment.
The Belgian can certainly take the rough treatment (since his debut, only three players have played more minutes in the Premier League than Hazard) but not for a lack of opponents trying to curtail his involvement in a game.
The only creative player who comes near to Hazard in fouls won per game in the last seven years is Wilfried Zaha, who was sent off for sarcastically applauding Andre Marriner in Crystal Palace’s draw with Southampton. The former Manchester United winger's ire was generated by the continued rough treatment he receives but Hazard, generally, has been able to take that sort of aggression from rival players on the chin, or more accurately, the ankles.
The 28-year-old's recent deployment as a 'false 9' seemed to make him even more of a target. It was no wonder he was so pleased Gonzalo Higuain got off the mark so quickly against Huddersfield as that will surely spell the end of Sarri's central striker experimentation and see Hazard back where he belongs for good – on the wing.
Should Hazard complete a move to Spain, there's no doubt he would receive more protection in La Liga, a competition that sees around 5.2 cards and 26 fouls per game, compared to 3.4 and 20 respectively in the Premier League. Just look at the difference between Ronaldo’s final season in England when he drew 2.39 fouls per game, compared to 3.24 in his first season in Spain.
More protection and more trophies? It's a likely scenario.
A footballer’s career is a finite thing, and time is running out for Hazard to make a contribution to the sport commensurate with his ability.
Real Madrid need Hazard and Hazard needs Real Madrid. It's time to let him go, Chelsea, his legacy may depend on it.