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Eden Hazard's decline at Real Madrid offers stark warning to Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka

Eden Hazard's decline at Real Madrid offers stark warning to Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka

He has offered a stark warning.

Eden Hazard’s premature retirement must act as a warning to England stars Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka.

Former Chelsea and Real Madrid winger, Hazard announced his retirement from football on Tuesday at just 32.

The Belgian started his career with Lille, scoring 50 goals in 149 appearances for the French outfit, before sealing a move to Chelsea in 2012, where he went on to become a club great. Hazard netted 110 goals in 352 appearances for the Blues and won two Premier League titles and the PFA Players' Player of the Year in 2014-15.

Indeed, he is one of only four players in Premier League history, alongside Thierry Henry, Matt Le Tissier and Eric Cantona, to have scored 15 or more goals and provided 15 or more assists in a single season, having netted 16 times and provided 15 assists in 2018-19.

However, upon sealing an £89million move to Real in 2019, Hazard’s career swiftly declined, before ultimately ending with a whimper. The attacker played just 54 league games for the Spanish giants in a four-year spell blighted by a series of injuries.

Upon announcing his retirement Hazard said he needed to “listen to himself”, having played “more than 700 matches” in 16 years - a figure that equates to some 43 matches a season, or when discounting his time at Real, around 54 games a campaign.

A year prior, when speaking to Marca, Hazard ambiguously stressed “many things” had led to his steep decline. One factor is likely to have been the excessive game-time early in his career.

Hazard told the Chelsea website (via Sports Review) back in 2014 when just 23-year-old: “I perform better when I keep on playing lots of games consecutively. It was the same in France. During my four years at Lille, I played a lot of games too.”

Paradoxically, that desire to play every game may have cost him. England starlets Bellingham and Saka must take stock.

A FIFPRO report released this summer claimed that the relentless football fixture calendar is damaging the physical and mental health of players.

The PFA subsequently noted on X that compared to former and current high-profile English players, Bellingham’s workload during his teenage years was extremely high.

Bellingham played over 14,445 minutes of football before turning 20 years old. That exceeds the total of two former England wonderkids Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, who played 10,989 minutes and 9187 minutes respectively as teenagers, only to suffer early physical declines just as Hazard did.

Meanwhile, though Saka played fewer minutes than the aforementioned England trio as a teenager, his absence in Arsenal’s victory over Manchester City on Sunday ended a run of 87 consecutive Premier League games in which Mikal Arteta had played the 22-year-old.

The Hale End graduate, who often receives rough treatment from opposition players, has been struggling with his hamstring in recent weeks.

Nevertheless, Saka and his manager are insistent that like many of the game’s greats, the player must be playing some three times a week.

In response to his manager’s insistence on playing the winger in every possible game, Saka told the Guardian in August: “Well, I think he has a point. The top players, when you look at recent years, that’s the amount of games they play. So it’s about making myself ready to be available and try to be on the pitch and help my team.

“There’s no point thinking about it negatively because if you look at the top players – Messi, Ronaldo – they play every game and there’s a reason why they score that amount of goals. So [Arteta] definitely said something true.”

Of course, for every Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there are countless Eden Hazards, Wayne Rooneys and Michael Owens.

Bellingham, Saka and their respective managers must consider these latter three examples at the early stage of their careers.

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Featured Image Credit: Getty/Real Madrid

Topics: Football, Eden Hazard, Real Madrid, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka, Arsenal, Premier League, Injury