BARCELONA — When Real Madrid broke its own transfer record to sign Eden Hazard, club president Florentino Pérez was confident he spent wisely on a top player who would refresh a team missing Cristiano Ronaldo.
A year and a half later, many in Spain believe Hazard's ill fortune with injuries mean he will never be the star he was in the English Premier League.
Hazard has missed more games (50) than he has played (35) since joining Madrid from Chelsea in 2019 due to a collection of leg injuries, including a troublesome fracture in his right foot during his first season with the Spanish club.
Hazard suffered another setback this week. Madrid said on Wednesday that Hazard injured his left thigh — reportedly during practice — and his "recovery will continue to be assessed."
The latest game he will miss is on Saturday, the Spanish league match at Huesca.
"Hazard is not happy with the situation," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said on Friday. "Nor does he understand it completely, because he is doing his job. Hazard is the first one who wants things to be different."
Hazard arrived in Spain in 2019 tasked with filling the void created by Ronaldo's departure for Juventus one year before. Madrid was convinced that the fee of 100 million euros ($113 million) plus add-ons was worth the dynamic playmaker who scored goals and assisted on many others to help Chelsea win a Premier League, the FA Cup, the English League Cup, and the Europa League twice.
Instead, many fans and voices in the Spanish sports press are questioning if Hazard, given his cost to the club in transfer and wages, has become a liability. While Gareth Bale's brittle body also frustrated Madrid's faithful, the Welshman did provide his team with some spectacular goals, particularly in Champions League finals.
Hazard, however, has rarely shown flashes of the talent he displayed at Chelsea. The forward, who also led Belgium to a World Cup semifinal in 2018, has only four goals for Madrid.
At 30 years old, time is no longer on his side, either, and Madrid has younger players such as Marco Asensio and Vinícius Júnior who can fill his spot in the lineup.
"We want to see Eden without any problems or injury trouble but he's having a run of bad luck," Zidane said. "It's a very tough situation for him because he wants to show what he's got and play for Real Madrid. He's a player who one day we'll see back playing well and injury-free. I hope that time comes now, once he's recovered from his latest knock."
Hazard's troubles parallel the team's rocky season. Other than victories over Barcelona and Atlético Madrid, Zidane's side has had a poor campaign. Just in January, it lost to Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup semifinals and was humiliated by third-tier Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey.
With only two wins in its last five Spanish league matches, Madrid has let Barcelona catch it in the standings while Atlético is racing away to dethroning it as league champion with a 10-point lead and a game in hand.
Zidane accepted the criticism for his team's bad form, but also demanded respect for a side that won the league title last season and lots of other trophies.
"We know there's an awful lot of talk, but we're keen to play the game and we're preparing to try and win it," he said. "We're only looking at the Huesca clash and to get back to what we were doing not long ago. We're going to fight until the final game."
They also hope Hazard is part if it.