That Eden Hazard’s name is sounding out on Clasico weekend wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone when he made his €140 million (£118m/$155m) move to Real Madrid three years ago.
However, the Belgian is making headlines for reasons that nobody would have wanted or predicted.
At 31 years old, Hazard should be in his prime and a key part of Real Madrid and Belgium’s trophy hopes in 2022, but that is not the case.
“Hazard, another Clasico without debuting?” ran a headline in Marca on Saturday.
It was a pointed reference to the fact that the attacker has been injured for most of the Clasicos played during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu.
In 2019, he had an ankle injury that caused him to miss both Liga games against Barcelona, while he was sidelined by muscular problems the following year.
This season, meanwhile, he did not make it off the bench in either the Camp Nou Clasico or Spanish Super Cup clash between the two great rivals.
So, six Clasicos have now passed since Hazards arrival without the winger making a single appearance.
Meanwhile, Madrid are on their best run against Barcelona since the 1960s, with five consecutive victories over the Catalans, all without the help of their record signing.
Even though Karim Benzema will miss Sundays showdown in the Spanish capital, coach Carlo Ancelotti is likely to leave Hazard out of his starting line-up.
Marco Asensio and Vinicius Junior could be joined in attack by Lucas Vazquez or even midfielder Fede Valverde, with a cameo off the bench seemingly the most Hazard can hope for.
“[Gareth Bale] is an alternative, we have Mariano, [Luka] Jovic, I’ve put Isco there once, Rodrygo…” said Ancelotti.“I will choose what I think is the best option for each game.”
Tellingly, Hazard’s name was not even mentioned as Ancelotti reeled off his list of offensive options, although the Italian later noted that the Belgium international was training professionally and still hoping for minutes.
“A blow for Hazard that was unexpected at Real Madrid,” noted website El Desmarque this week after the forward was also omitted from Roberto Martinez’s latest Belgium squad list.
Having played just 138 minutes across Madrids last 10 games – not featuring at all in the last four matches – game time with his country in friendlies against Ireland and Burkina Faso could have helped Hazard.
Martinez decided to call up players who have featured under 50 times for the country, meaning Hazard, a veteran, was not included.
“Another summer is coming,” said Martinez. “So, you know many changes will come, changes in teams too.
“The same applies to [Romelu] Lukaku and Hazard: their situation will be reconsidered when the new season starts.”
With the World Cup approaching at the end of the year, if Hazard’s lack of game time continues, it may preclude him from becoming a key figure for Belgium in Qatar.
Right now, he certainly looks like a peripheral figure. His name was brought up on social media this week but not in relation to the Clasico.
Hazard became a talking point because of the Champions League quarter-final draw, which pit Madrid against his former club, Chelsea.
The teams met in the semi-finals of last season’s competition and, after the Blues knocked out the 13-time record-holders, Hazard was pictured laughing as he greeted his former team-mates, provoking ire in the Madrid media.
“Hazard cannot stay one second longer at Real Madrid,” raged Josep Pedrerol, host of Spanish television show El Chiringuito that night.
Hazard did not depart but is more of a glorified cheerleader than anything else this season, scoring just one goal, against Elche in the Copa del Rey in January.
It was a nicely finished effort, skipping around the goalkeeper and sliding home from an angle, but even the more optimistic Madrid fans did not take it as a sign that he is close to returning to his former heights. Instead, supporters hoped it might tempt a side into making a move for him before the window shut.
Arsenal are the latest club linked with Hazard and it’s hard to see the Belgian staying at Madrid beyond the summer, as Martinez suggests.
Madrid are poised to bring in Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe, Vinicius Junior is becoming an elite talent and Benzema is the league’s top goalscorer.
Rodrygo and Asensio are also now blocking Hazard’s path and with a contract that still has two years to run, Madrid would do well to clear his high wages off the books if they want to reinforce in the summer.
Bale, of course, is in a similar situation to Hazard, another formerly world-class player who has been frozen out by the coach, but the difference is the Welshman’s deal expires this summer.
When Bale leaves, he can look back on his years of success at Real Madrid and, even though he split opinion, he undeniably played a significant part in winning multiple trophies.
That hasn’t been the case for Hazard, who hasn’t even managed to play in a Clasico.
It’s not an easy job to find a destination for such an injury-prone player, even if Madrid would be happy to let him go for next to nothing.
Chelsea have often been linked, strangely perhaps given they have plenty of forwards vying for opportunities, but their change in situation, with the club up for sale, takes them off the table for now.
Newcastle were said to be interested and, given the way Philippe Coutinho has been revived by a return to the Premier League with Aston Villa, St. James Park may be the best port of call in the summer should Eddie Howes side stay up.
Another former side, Lille, may be an option if Hazard decides to take a significant reduction on his wages, which are estimated to be over €20m (£17m/$22m) a year. Perhaps he could be convinced by the minutes on offer, with a view to securing a place in Belgium’s World cup squad.