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Real Madrids Eden Hazard talks to ESPN about overcoming inju

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Real Madrids Eden Hazard talks to ESPN about overcoming injuries, his future and Benzema for Ballon dOr

Eden Hazard focused on proving himself at Real Madrid

Eden Hazard speaks about potentially joining MLS and his hopes for this season with Real Madrid.

Three years into hisReal Madridcareer, it feels as thoughEden Hazardstill hasnt really got started. Signed fromChelseain 2019 as arguably thePremier Leagues best player, and fully expected to fill the void left byCristiano Ronaldos departure a year earlier, theBelgiuminternational has instead become an afterthought inLaLigaand, to some, a punchline.

Hazard, 31, has won two Spanish titles and aChampions Leaguewith Real Madrid, but he played a supporting role in those successes. After arriving overweight --by his own admission-- in the summer of 2019, things only got worse from there, as an ankle fracture in November 2019 was followed by surgery in March 2020 and the insertion of a metal plate in his right fibula.

If 2019-20 was, in Hazards words, the worst of my career, then 2020-21 wasnt much better. More injuries followed, and he ended the campaignirritating the club and fans when he was pictured joking with former teammatesafter a Champions League defeat to Chelsea.

He was a bit-part player again last term, with his preferred position on the left of the attack monopolised by the seasons breakout star,Vinicius Junior. By March, feeling sick of ongoing ankle discomfort and related muscular injuries, he opted for more surgery to remove the plate that had been inserted two years earlier.

Hazards most headline-grabbing performance came when he took an unexpectedly high-profile role in Madrids trophy celebrations in May.Madridistas, Ive been here for three years, with a lot of injuries, he said, after grabbing a microphone to exuberantly address the crowd of fans gathered at the citys Plaza de Cibeles. But next year Ill give everything for you!

Theyre just words, of course, and Hazard will need to do his talking on the pitch. Nobody doubts his talent; there have been questions about his attitude toward training and whether injuries have robbed him of his ability to beat defenders. But there are some reasons for optimism. Hazard is said to have returned for preseason in shape and free of pain. In an unusual, demanding year -- nobody knows how players will be affected by the midseasonWorld Cup-- and with Madrid not planning on signing a forward after missing out onKylian Mbappe, he might get his chance as a back-up forKarim Benzema.

My idea is to try Eden in [the false No. 9] position,manager Carlo Ancelotti said last week. With the qualities he has, it can be good for us to have him there.

As Real Madrid begin their preseason tour of the United States -- staying at Los Angeles Beverly Hills Hotel and training at the UCLA campus -- Hazard spoke to ESPNs Mauricio Pedroza about his hopes for this season and why he isnt ready to give up on making his time at the club a success.

Editors Note: this interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

-ESPN+ guide: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, more (U.S.)

-2022-23 preseason schedule for Europes top clubs

ESPN: How would you describe the importance of this upcoming season for you personally?

Hazard:Its been a few seasons that Ive not been playing that much, so for me, its like the [first] full one now with this club. I just want to show what I can do on the pitch. Thats my only target.

ESPN: What is the biggest challenge of this season, considering that the World Cup will be played in the middle of it?

Hazard:To be competitive in every competition. Its going to be a tough season, thats for sure, because we are also champions of Europe, and you know that when you are champions of Europe, everyone wants to beat you. But we are ready for that. We have a good team. Some new players came, so were just ready for this new season.

ESPN: How do you feel in this preseason -- in terms of your health, in terms of your shape -- compared to what you had to go through in the past couple of years?

Hazard:Im good. Im healthy, you know, thank you for that. I can play -- I can do what I want on the pitch. So I hope Im going to stay fit [for] two or three more years, I still want to enjoy my game, and thats why Im here.

ESPN: Because injuries seem to be part of the conversation around your career at Real Madrid, how have you been able to cope with that and not lose motivation?

Hazard:Believe me, its not that easy. You know, when you play football, you just want to be on a pitch. You try to know whats happening, because I was not injured much [at Chelsea] before, and so it was something new for me. You have to learn how to take care of your body in a different way, but its a good challenge. Like I just said: Im healthy, so Im just ready to play.

ESPN: What changes did you make personally with your routine during the offseason, once the Champions League finished? Do you do anything different to get into the very good shape that youre on right now?

Hazard:Not that much. You know, I spent two weeks with Belgium at the end of the season. I was able to play four games, not 90 minutes. And then in my mind I was like: OK, I can play, I dont feel it. I dont feel any pain anymore. So lets go forward, you know, and then I just enjoyed my holiday. I work a bit between seasons -- we only had one month just to be ready for the preseason.

Eden Hazards three years at Real Madrid have been disrupted by injuries, but he tells ESPN that he feels fully fit and ready to thrive next season.

Antonio Villalba/Real Madrid via Getty Images

ESPN: You pointed to your head [when giving that answer], which is interesting, because its one thing to be healthy to go back and train, but how tough is it for a player like you that the mental aspect is also on point while youre dealing with this injuries?

Hazard:Yeah, but like I just said, its not that easy, especially when you dont know why you were injured. Ive been injured at times with Chelsea, but not like those three years with Real Madrid. I knew something was wrong with my body, so thats why I asked to do surgery at the end of the season.

ESPN: When you see your club succeed like last year, winning LaLiga and the Champions League, but youre not having the minutes that you want to have on the pitch, how would you describe that mix of feelings?

Hazard:Its a mix just like you said; youre happy for the boys, youre happy for the club, youre happy for the fans, but you know inside you, its like I cant show Im not happy [to not be involved], you know? Football is a collective thing, but inside me I was like: OK, I want good things this season, but I was not playing that much, so lets show that I can play and we can win with me involved on the pitch.

ESPN: Whats the biggest strength of this Real Madrid squad?

Hazard:I think its that we play well together, we have experienced players and we have newer players ... we have a mix of generations. You know it when you see us on the pitch. We look like a real team. You know last year, we had a fantastic Champions League, but we were behind in so many games and just never gave up. We tried to just play until the end, and there were so many game like that. So I think its like a mix of things: a mix of generations and talent also, because we have plenty of talent in the squad and were just happy to be together.

ESPN: Thats a strength. Give me one weakness.

Hazard:We dont have it! Sometimes we got tired a bit, but thats it.

ESPN: If you were to present Karim Benzema as a candidate for the Ballon dOr, what would you say on his behalf?

Hazard:Karim? I think he deserves it. You know, theres no doubt about it. But I think he deserves it not just for that season, but for his whole career, you know? Its like hes been at the top for 15 years. Maybe hes scoring more goals, which is why people just want him to win this Ballon dOr, but I think he deserved it before, like five years ago. Hes our captain now and hes also, like, a really good guy, you know? Hes not talking that much on the pitch, doing what he wants. Hes our leader. So we just pushed him to go for the Ballon dOr.

ESPN: Part of the history of Real Madrid is that they have a strong squad and are always looking to make it even stronger with new signings. Were you surprised when Kylian Mbappe decided not to join Real Madrid?

Hazard:I think that is in the past now; were just focusing now on this season. Hes a player atParis Saint-Germain, and thats it. He made a choice and we have to respect it. And thats it. We look forward to the season.

ESPN: Speaking of the next season, your rivalsBarcelonaare making a big splash with signings. Do you guys need your biggest rival to be strong again?

Hazard:Its better for LaLiga when these kind of matches are like, Wow, what aClasico. You know, [when Barcelona have] better players, its even more fun to beat them. But we are ready for this challenge.

ESPN: Have you guys reached out toGareth Balehere in L.A.? Have you had any contact with him now that hes playing here atLAFC?

Hazard:I just spoke with him yesterday, just to ask him to come to say hello. He hasnt answered, though, so maybe hes coming soon.

Hazard:Nah, hes replying, but he didnt come yet. Hes going to, for sure.

ESPN: OK, what did you make of his move to MLS and LAFC?

Hazard:I dont know because he was [thinking about it] when we were talking last season. I think its a good challenge for him because hes also going to the World Cup, so he just wants to play, and I think hes in L.A., one of the best spots to be on the pitch, and we know hes been unbelievable for like 15 years and still has a lot of quality to show the world that hes still one of the best.

ESPN: When you see guys like Bale,Giorgio Chiellini,Lorenzo Insignejoining MLS, and youve seen the likes ofZlatan Ibrahimovic, David Beckham, Frank Lampard here before ... have you ever thought about maybe moving to MLS?

Hazard:I dont think about that that much. Now, Im just focused on this season. I still have a contract for two more years. And then well see in two years. Ill be 33, so lets see what can happen.

ESPN: You have that contract, but at the same time I know you had offers to maybe go to another club where you most certainly would have been a secure starter and play a lot of minutes, but you decided to stay at Real Madrid. Why?

Hazard:I want to show people that I can play for this club. Thats it. Thats my only reason.

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