In a revealing interview with L'Equipe, Eden Hazard, the Belgian forward whose tenure with Real Madrid ended just seven months ago, has come forward with an apology to the club and its fans for not meeting the high expectations set upon his arrival.
Four months after announcing his retirement, Hazard remains in Madrid, reflecting on a career that, by his own admission, did not align with the cultural and footballing ethos of the storied Spanish club.
Hazard's journey to Real Madrid was the fulfillment of a childhood dream, fueled by his admiration for Zinedine Zidane and the allure of the iconic white shirt and the Santiago Bernabeu.
Yet, despite these aspirations, Hazard confesses that there was a mismatch between his personality and the club's culture, indicating a clash not just in style but in substance.
"I've been a Zinedine Zidane fan since I was a child. The Bernabeu, the white kit... it has a charm that others don't have. Real Madrid is special," Hazard said.
"Beyond that, I don't think that I fit in. It's not like me. It's a bit of a 'swaggering' club and I'm not like that.
"I also didn't like the way we played if you compare it to other clubs. But, it was my dream. I couldn't finish my career without coming here."
Real Madrid's relentless pursuit of excellence and titles is well-documented, a pressure Hazard felt keenly. His time at the club was marred by injuries and a struggle to adapt to the demands of playing at such a high level.
Hazard's recounting of his ordeal is candid, highlighting the physical and mental toll it took on him.
"They say I was a slacker," Hazard said. "But I haven't spent 16 years [as a professional] without training. The little games, the little runs, I was there.
"It's true that some mornings I arrived without sleeping well, not feeling like it, no desire, and when it's like that, I show it.
"Don't give me the ball. I'm making a square metre and I'm not moving! I don't move.
"And I don't move for an hour. An hour of tactics? 'Can I go with the physio?'"
The Belgian international also addressed his relationship with fitness and diet, topics that have often been highlighted by critics. Despite acknowledging his laissez-faire attitude towards dieting, Hazard insists it was not for lack of professionalism.
"I'm a bon vivant, I like to eat, with friends, we have a drink," he said.
"With Chelsea I'd just finished one of the best seasons of my career. I said to myself, 'now that I'm at Real Madrid, this is perhaps the last vacation I'll be able to take...'
"And I let go of myself like I let go of myself every summer. Seven years in England, without a break at Christmas, giving everything, so when I have three or four weeks of vacation, 'don't bother me' barbecues, rosé wine... all that.
"And that's what allowed me to reset myself to start again. Then, Real, it went wrong and that's it."
Hazard apologies to Real Madrid fans
Hazard's apology to the fans is poignant, a recognition of the gap between the hope his signing represented and the reality of his contributions.
"I felt sad for the Real fans and disappointed for them," he stated, expressing regret over not being able to fulfill the dreams both he and the fans shared.
Hazard's story is a testament to the complexities of modern sports, where talent and dreams meet the harsh realities of expectation and performance.
As he continues to reside in Madrid, Hazard's reflections offer a nuanced perspective on his time with Real Madrid, marked by dreams, challenges, and, ultimately, a candid acknowledgment of the difficulties he faced.
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