Why do so many stars join Real Madrid, become injured, and never recover to play as they did before they arrived? Worst yet, why do the stars need to leave Madrid to recover their forms? Will Eden Hazard, Real’s latest galactico, go out after becoming an oft-injured star?
A string of very public, expensive Madrid purchases—Kaka (2009), Gareth Bale (2013), James Rodriguez (2014), and Eden Hazard (2019)—spanning a decade, have evolved to the detriment of the players once they went on the injured list. Similarly, once on that list they seemed to become oft-injured.
Kaka came to Madrid from AC Milan after having won the 2007 Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year but in his four years at the Bernabeu he only played 85 games (or about a third of the matches his team played) being injured at least half of those years and benched by coaches who did not like him, such as Jose Mourinho, who would argue he was concerned the player would re-injure himself if played. Kaka never played but a handful of meaningful games at Madrid, yet he was chosen the best player in the 2009 Confederations Cup and the top assist man in the 2010 World Cup.
Gareth Bale arrived at Madrid from Tottenham Hotspurs for a then world-record transfer fee in 2013, but he spent seven years with the Merengues and only played 171 matches or about 38% of the matches his team played. Bale was injured for long spells, would play a few matches on much-ballyhooed returns, only to reinjure himself and return to the bench. Unfortunately for Bale Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane was never a fan and Bale was never given a fair chance to come back. Similar to Kaka, Bale was always able to participate and contribute to his national team throughout his Madrid stint and led Wales to the 2016 Euro while becoming his country’s top scorer during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers where a 0-1 loss to Northern Ireland in the final group game saw them bow out.
James Rodriguez, the 2014 World Cup wunderkind, who won the tournament’s Golden Boot and most would argue should have also won the Golden Ball, came to Madrid from a season at Monaco and played 86 games in six years or a little over 22% of the matches his team played. Again he was injured often, would recoup long enough to be available to play, and would ride a rollercoaster of emotions with the revolving door that was Real’s head coach slot which saw no fewer than four coaches in five years. During those years, having to repeatedly prove himself anew while recovering James impressed while injured and yet suffered at the hands of Zidane, who did not take to the Colombian. During his Madrid stint, James led Colombia to a third place in the 2015 Copa America Centenario, the quarterfinals in the 2019 Copa America, and the Group of 16 at the 2018 World Cup.
Now comes Eden Hazard, he of the summer of 2019 transfer. He had been at Chelsea for five successful years before crossing the channel and then, at Madrid, he has played 19 of his team’s games for a paltry 7.5% of the total. Granted he was injured his fair share of the time in England, but 19 games total in fifteen months speaks volumes about his inability to recuperate at the helping hands of the Bernabeu staff. While at Madrid, Hazard, Belgium’s captain, led his national team (5 goals, 4 assists) to become the first qualifier to the Euro 2020 tournament, by winning every qualifying game. Should he overcome his current injury, and return to play for Real, how long will he remain healthy, and if he manages to do so how often will Zidane play him? Once a player gets the oft-injured label, he goes into a black hole in Madrid.
What is it about stars getting that oft-injured label while at Madrid that makes them falter as Merengues? Kaka managed to play in the MLS for years before retiring but never returned to top-level play. Bale is on loan to Hotspurs where he has regained his enjoyment of football, by playing on game day, anywhere but at the Bernabeu. James, who did well on a loan spell to Bayern Munich is now fully at Everton where he has played ten games, scored three goals, and had four assists. Many of these injured star players seem to recover their prior playing form only by departing Real. Will Hazard have to leave the Spanish capital to be reborn or will he be the first high-profile injured star to comeback at Madrid?