Real Madrid does this peculiar thing. They're linked with a player. It's always somebody who makes you wonder why they even pay for a scouting department. This isn't a slight. What is the use of being arguably the biggest club in the world if you can't occasionally nab the very best talent? But the player is always an obvious choice. Italian suits, Danish furniture. Kaka, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard. For whatever reason, the process of landing the player takes longer than it should. It's not often a single-summer affair. There are rumors for an entire season, and then there's an offer in July, a counteroffer in late July, a standoff, a deadline deal that doesn't go through. Infamously, David De Gea didn't join Madrid in 2015 because Manchester United—intentionally or otherwise—filed paperwork moments after the transfer deadline had closed. Rumors of malfunctioning fax machines. This isn't to say Madrid don't do straightforward deals. But they're involved in lots of complicated ones. Last-minute transactions, near misses.
Their business seems so protracted because they've essentially got state media. The sports tabloid Marca and the radio show El Chiringuito—you have to understand that radio shows still have a lot of sway in Spain, like WFAN in the 90s if Mike Francesca actually had as many sources as he claimed to—circulate what president Florentino Perez and his crew want circulated. Such-and-such struggling player has been acting up in training. The manager is on thin ice. The team that Madrid is playing next week is a mess. And Madrid's top transfer target for the summer is said to be very interested in coming to the Bernabéu. This is often transparently cynical. You read something in Marca and realize pretty much immediately that you're reading exactly what Florentino wants you to read. But while propaganda isn't subtle, its effects are. It deposits a sentiment, no matter how obviously false, into the discourse. And suddenly it seems, even if you don't really believe it, more true than it was a few seconds ago. You can't speak new realities into existence, but you can make them seem incrementally more possible. See: positive self-talk, whole political careers.
This is only the beginning of the peculiar thing. Real Madrid wants a player. They express that they want a player by floating in the press that the player wants them. Negotiate for three months, nine months, eighteen. The player eventually ends up in all-white, smiling at his presentation, announcing that since he was a child, he wanted to play for Real Madrid. (Player are usually lying when they say this kind of thing. With Real Madrid, they actually might not be.) And after that process is over, after the signing has been consummated and the warm glow of a fresh relationship fades, the player sucks. Or maybe he doesn't suck, precisely, but he falls well short of some really lofty expectations. Or he's hurt, off and on, and unable to get in a groove. He's confounding and then frustrating and then derided and then loathed. He gets whistled. The stands get on him just for standing on the pitch, fixing his shorts. Fans of other clubs act like this is specifically a Real Madrid phenomenon, like the Bernabéu is the only stadium that has some bratty socios. This is a dumb stereotype. Fans of every club cuss out their players. But Real Madrid is particularly hard on underperformers. It's not that they've whisted Cristiano Ronaldo. It is that they have hated, with their bursting hearts, flops like Danilo and Anelka and—here and there; it's complicated—Bale.
The last stage of the peculiar thing is that the player who was long the apple of the club's eye, who took a while to join and then struggled long enough to gain the fans' full ire, gets torched by the state media. He's worthless. His teammates dislike him, the manager doesn't trust him. He's been given so many chances to shine and wasted all of them. Everybody's out of patience. It's time for him to leave. He'll never play for the club again. It would be best for all parties if he just skipped town in shame. The detail that's not typically emphasized, or isn't mentioned at all, is that the player makes a lot of money and is under contract for another two or three more seasons. Madrid needs him off the books so they can chase the next global superstar, who might work out better.
This is all to say that Real Madrid is currently wrapping up doing the peculiar thing to Eden Hazard, who was highly coveted and hasn't been healthy or any good since he arrived in Madrid three summers ago. It turns out that he was kicked in the ankles too many times while playing in England, and that a player who's mildly infamous for getting chubby in the summer and playing himself into shape during the season hasn't aged well as he's advanced into his thirties. El Chiringuito has burned him, claiming that his season is kaputt and Carlo Ancelotti is totally done with him. Sports daily AS, a little more honest in their reporting, has floated the possibility of him joining Newcastle, admitting that his high wages might present a problem. You'll hear more of this over the next few months. Every effort will be made to make it appear like Hazard is on his way out, even if the player himself says nothing, or says the opposite.
One notable aspect of Hazard's journey from prize to punching bag is that his failed Madrid career hasn't felt like a saga in the way that other Madrid flops have. It's maybe that he's been hurt so often; there have been fewer poor performances to gawk at. He simply showed up, was immediately injured, and then proceeded not to recover well, or look anything like the beautiful defense-slicing sprite he was at Chelsea. It hasn't happened for him, and now it is time for him to leave. The obvious problem being that he might not want to, or might not find a club that will pay him something close to what he makes at the Bernabéu. Nevertheless, the same drumbeat that carried him to Real Madrid will try, in a syncopated cadence, to push him out. It is the peculiar thing that Madrid does. Like an immune response, it doesn't always work, but it happens as if unconsciously, when something needs to go.