Monday 10 December 2018

Comment: Real Madrid sense weakness at Chelsea, but may not have the money to make Eden Hazard Ronaldo heir

Belgium's Eden Hazard after his side's third-place play-off victory over England.
Belgium's Eden Hazard after his side's third-place play-off victory over England.

Sam Wallace

There have been two official denials from Real Madrid this summer that they want to sign Neymar, plus one along the same lines about Kylian Mbappe which says everything about how the club have been put in their place by Paris Saint-Germain.

The Qatari owners of PSG might have broken the transfer market last summer with their signing of Neymar, but you cannot argue with the robustness of their approach to Madrid, and their president Florentino Perez, who once thought he could get any player in the world. Now the European champions seem strangely reluctant to upset PSG’s owners, and as he watches from wherever he has spent Russia 2018, Roman Abramovich will notice.

Perez smells weakness at Chelsea – a messy managerial change, and an owner at odds with the British government. In the past, Perez has never dared to target Chelsea’s best players as he has with Manchester United and Arsenal, but the picture has changed. Perez is under pressure to replace his marquee name Cristiano Ronaldo and Eden Hazard is the high-performing star that he might just be able to secure.

The approach is shaping up to be predictable, with Hazard lighting the fuse after another masterful performance for Belgium against England in the third-place match. Chelsea have good reason, however, to feel confident that they can resist the transfer before the window closes on August 9.

There is no question that Hazard has done Chelsea great service, coming in the summer when they were European champions and, despite winning two Premier League titles, never having recaptured those heights. He has two years left on his contract, which is always the point at which difficult decisions have to be made.There is an assumption that a transfer to Madrid is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that the funds will come from somewhere. But the money to pay a transfer fee of £150 million-£200 million in one instalment to Chelsea – more if they also want Thibaut Courtois – is most certainly not there, as Perez knows.

The last financial results for Madrid showed the club have a loan facility to meet their €404 million (£357.3 million) annual wage bill, paid bi-annually.

They had cash reserves of €178 million (£157.4 million) on June 30, which was down to €133 million (£117.61 million) by Dec 31, a period during which their wage bill grew by 14 per cent. The club’s statutes prevent Perez from borrowing more than €140 million (£123.8 million) without the consent of Madrid’s general assembly. In recent years they have stayed in the black by selling Danilo, Alvaro Morata and now Ronaldo – a period notable for the absence of a major signing.

With Ronaldo’s departure they can avoid the issue no longer. But having seen PSG pay £198 million up front for Neymar, Chelsea’s director Marina Granovskaia would be entitled to ask Madrid to do the same. Why would Chelsea, a direct rival, give Madrid a finance package to sign their best player by accepting the fee in instalments when they too will be under pressure to acquire a replacement of similar status?

One suspects that Granovskaia, a new generation of football executive, is less likely to be in thrall to the legend of Madrid than clubs who have simply allowed their best players to be spirited away. This World Cup has confirmed Hazard as one of the world’s five leading attacking players, a once-in-a-generation talent. The terms of any deal for him should be non-negotiable.

Madrid have €50 million (£44.2 million) from the first instalment of the Ronaldo transfer.

They are yet to persuade Bayern Munich to turn their two-year loan of James Rodriguez into a lucrative permanent sale and may never do so. Madrid may be able to persuade Hazard to agitate for a move as others have in the past, but that would be out of keeping for such a low-maintenance superstar.

In their current financial state, no Madrid transfer has to be inevitable.

David De Gea did not go there in 2015, blamed at the time on a convenient administrative glitch. In January, Athletic Bilbao refused Madrid’s request for goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga’s then €30 million (£26.53 million) buy-out clause to be paid in instalments and the deal collapsed. If Hazard wants to go then it should be done on Chelsea’s terms and they may discover that those are terms which Madrid cannot meet.

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