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Hazard & Real Madrid demands: Does Florentino know what he's buying?

COMMENT: £100m? £120m? Whatever the price. When it comes to Eden Hazard, do those pulling the strings at Real Madrid actually know what they're buying?

It's now just a matter of dotting the i's and crossing the t's. The agreement is in place. Just a final breakdown of Hazard's fee needs to be settled between Real Madrid and Chelsea. But given the previews. The preliminaries. All the predictions from pundits, ex-players and even former teammates, you do wonder whether such assessments are based on what has been - or what they hope will be.

Hazard isn't Gareth Bale. But he's also no Cristiano Ronaldo. And on a scale between the two, Chelsea's soon-to-be former No10 is closer to the Welshman than Juventus' star No7.

Just yesterday, in the aftermath of Hazard's superb two-goal performance in Baku, Maurizio Sarri touched upon the pleasure and frustration managing the Belgian produces.

Conceding that Hazard would be leaving for Madrid, the Blues manager remarked: “I'm sad, because Hazard is an extraordinary player and can achieve even more.

"He's an odd lad, but once you get into his comfort zone, he's wonderful."

When the Italian says "comfort zone", he really means indulged. But in the best sense of the word. If you, as Hazard's manager, can just push him far enough, you'll get a performance from the Belgian. But demand more than he's comfortable with and the tap's turned off.

Sarri simply was echoing those before him. Jose Mourinho. Antonio Conte. You name 'em. Hazard is capable of extraordinary things. And he will do it consistently. But you're always left believing there's much, much more in the tank.

Sarri again: "Hazard is a pleasure during the game, but sometimes during the week he is a problem as he is very talented and gets bored in training because everything is easy.

"Right now, Eden is one of the most important players in Europe and in the world. I think he can improve, and he has to try to become the best in Europe."

Remember, Hazard is now 28 years of age. Sarri isn't offering advice to a prospect of 22 or 23 with world-beater potential. He's trying - just as those before him - to coax something out of Hazard that no-one sitting on the Chelsea bench has managed to do.

And this has to be the concern going to Real Madrid. A Real Madrid in clear transition. Hazard will walk into Valdebebas on that first day as his new club's prime player. No-one on the books, not even Bale, is in the class of the Belgian. But that expectation. That weight to carry on his shoulders. It's far, far heavier than anything he experienced at Chelsea.

Cesc Fabregas, now of AS Monaco, reckons his former Blues teammate is ready. Despite all that has gone before, Cesc is adamant that once Hazard pulls on the Los Merengues shirt, he'll be transformed.

"I know that Eden says that he doesn't care about the Ballon d'Or," conceded Cesc, before adding, "but deep down it really does matter to him. He can win that prize at Real Madrid, as well as the Champions League."

Sounds nice. But those who's job it is - and was - to get a tune consistently out of Hazard would say something different. Hazard will produce great performances. Great campaigns. But only on his terms. As Sarri says, you need to work to his "comfort zone".

And that's on the pitch. Off it, as Real's highest profile player, there'll be huge demands of his time. Again, the expectations will unlike anything he experienced at Cobham. Hazard is a homebody. A family man. His "comfort zone" is to fulfill his training commitments on any given day and scoot off back to his family. Will Real allow that? Indeed, will their president Florentino Perez, after parting with a club record fee, be prepared to indulge that?

That's not to say this move will be a disaster. Far from it. But both parties need to enter this agreement with eyes wide open. And expectations known. Hazard can be a great Real Madrid player. A memorable one. But Florentino cannot expect him - even as a record buy - to carry the club as Ronaldo did before him.

Piet de Visser, the scouting genius who all those years ago first identified Hazard for Roman Abramovich, the Blues owner. His warnings about managing Hazard, more than anyone's in the game, still ring true today.

"You have to give him freedom. And no pressure," said De Visser when discussing why it had all gone sour between his old protege and former Blues manager Mourinho. "Then Eden is at his best. Mourinho is a pure winner, who wanted to make Eden even better. When he is already at his best, just keep him that way.

"But Mourinho wanted him to always pull the cart, to always score, be even more decisive. That pressure became much too great for Eden."

Real Madrid need to know what they're getting - and what to expect. Hazard isn't one to be pushed, even it is as a Real Madrid player.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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