One thing nearly always leads to another, except at Real Madrid.
As the 32-year-old, €100 million ($110 million)-plus Eden Hazard snapped up the ball in midfield and broke towards Real Valladolid’s penalty area in a 6-0 rout on Sunday, he should have laid on one more classy assist, a further glossy moment in line with the mega money spent on him.
Instead, the most expensive signing at the most decorated club worldwide teeing up the sixth goal was unusual. That was Hazard’s first goal involvement in over six months and a rare contribution in an injury-hampered four seasons in the Spanish capital—soon to become five, with his contract up in 2024.
Discussing this soccer enigma has become tedious because little has changed for the ghostly number 7. All the while, Hazard—likely an afterthought for the upcoming and decisive Copa del Rey clásico—resembles something increasingly salient about Real and professional soccer across the board. Forecasts stand for very little.
As the Belgian exhibited his former self, Karim Benzema—three years his senior—did something he’s been doing for some time. On this occasion, it defied years and logic, as he notched a hat-trick in seven first-half minutes, the third-fastest treble for Los Blancos in their league history.
It was not supposed to be like this. Then again, nothing is at the moment. While Hazard has made an unexpected impact, striker Mariano Díaz—there to ease the pressure on Benzema—may as well be miles away. On loan at Girona, 21-year-old Reiner Jesus is at a dead end, a talent stranded from Madrid glory, which crystallised after his red card against Espanyol. Rebuking the idea that hyped-up recruits generate success, Benzema and Modric are still the men stealing the show all these seasons later.
All this falls against a similarly eye-opening backdrop. After coaches Brendan Rodgers and Graham Potter finished up at Premier League sides Leicester City and Chelsea, two La Liga boards took the plunge, too. Espanyol’s directors concluded Diego Martínez was no longer the man to lead. Then the Valladolid owner and Brazil legend Ronaldo Nazario oversaw boss Pacheta’s dismissal following the heavy loss in Madrid. The appointments didn’t work out as hoped.
Both La Liga sides pulling the plug demonstrates how precarious these next few games are. Sticking with the same boss, even one seemingly at one with Ronaldo and the club like Pacheta was, has proved too risky given the relegation doom facing Valladolid, alongside around eight teams—and the financial hit this will take if poor results continue. Espanyol has since appointed ex-player Luis García as manager.
Events at Chelsea are particularly telling, though. Whether you agree or disagree with Potter’s sacking, the west London side represents a €551 million ($600 million) transfer operation backfiring, a long-term sporting—and financial project—off to a troublesome start. That’s not including the supposed €35 million ($38 million) payout to Potter’s former club Brighton for the ten league wins he earned at Stamford Bridge.
Again, it was not supposed to be like this. Neither was the sudden comedown at Jürgen Klopp’s hiccuping Liverpool. Nor the nosedive at Juventus in Italy—reprimanded for financial irregularities and lacking the commanding league position to match its name and roster. In a different guise, Arsenal persisting with a seemingly faltering project is finally bringing dividends and could result in an improbable domestic crown.
Back in Spain, the probable La Liga champion Barcelona faces issues. With the UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin labelling the Negreira refereeing case engulfing Barcelona as extremely serious, the status quo may suffer more if a European power like the Blaugrana has to endure sanctions—potentially dampening an excellent league campaign by usual standards.
Narratives are tumbling. And the conclusion is long-term projects, be they signings or managerial appointments, don’t always last. Instead, clubs are often wiser betting on longevity and low-risk buys—whether on the field or in the dugout. Just ask Real’s staff how the Hazard plan went.