With the sense of tact and timing for which he is renowned, Paul Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, suggested at the weekend that Manchester United may wish to swap his client for Eden Hazard.
‘Pogba to Real Madrid is difficult,’ Raiola said. ‘But nothing is impossible. What if Real offer a Hazard-Pogba swap? If all parties like it, why not?’
What chutzpah. What panache. What imagination. Maybe he’s trying to get a final one in before Ed Woodward goes for good.
Real Madrid fans were furious at Eden Hazard’s reaction to Real Madrid’s loss on Wednesday
Perhaps all his mates were on the extension line stifling snorts and giggles as Raiola tried to sell Manchester United one last incredible pup, for old time’s sake. Whatever aggravation there has been around Pogba since he arrived in 2016, he is not Hazard at Real Madrid.
There have been good games, good times, trophies in which he has played a valuable part, performances that have stood out, haircuts that have gone like gangbusters on social media. Not as many as United would have wanted, obviously, not as many as there should have been.
But Pogba has been a disappointment, not a disaster. He’s not Alexis Sanchez. That is, perhaps, the only transfer in recent memory that has fared worse than Hazard’s £90million switch from Chelsea to Real Madrid in 2019.
Hazard’s club won La Liga last year. That is the saving grace. Yet they did it despite him, not because of him, which is hardly the point of a deal of such magnitude. Hazard was supposed to be the catalyst for success, the same script that was written for him at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
Immediately after the final whistle Hazard was seen laughing with ex team-mate Kurt Zouma
There has been no 14th Champions League trophy, no starring role domestically. On his return to Chelsea, Hazard looked not just unfit but unathletic, as if lifestyle as much as injury has taken its toll.
Who can forget his explanation for reporting 5kg overweight in his first season? ‘When I’m on holiday, I’m on holiday,’ he said. Hazard’s critics would claim he’s had his feet up ever since.
At his best, Hazard was a great player but he was never in the class of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. He would take a year off, as he did in 2015-16, which resulted in the dismissal of Jose Mourinho; he might go missing for stretches of a flat campaign.
Other years, he was the difference.
The trophies Chelsea won during Hazard’s time were almost always the result of his performances — whether over a season in the case of the two titles, or in individual matches, right up to the 2019 Europa League final, his last game.
Yet to be the new Ronaldo at Madrid required discipline. Ronaldo scored as many goals in his first three games for Madrid as Hazard has in two seasons there. Actually, he scored as many goals between the 15th and 55th minute against Racing Santander on October 23, 2010: four.
Mino Raiola has boldly suggested Hazard could head to United in exchange for Paul Pogba
The disillusionment felt in Madrid was evident in the reaction to Hazard’s joking with his former Chelsea team-mates at the final whistle. Television pundits railed; influential newspapers gave his performance zero.
‘How can he stay in Madrid a minute longer?’ it was asked. Yet this is in many ways the least of his sins. Hazard’s laughter may have been a little too carefree in the circumstances — he’s virtually doubled up in some images — but while it infuriates the fans, this is the cosmopolitan nature of modern football.
Players move around, players make friends. A Manchester United supporter might not know anyone who follows Chelsea, but Nemanja Matic knows all the older team members from his former club.
And Pogba and Anthony Martial know N’Golo Kante, Kurt Zouma and Olivier Giroud through France, and David de Gea and Cesar Azpilicueta know each other through Spain, and Ben Chilwell and Harry Maguire played together at Leicester.
And some may be really good mates, family friends who haven’t seen each other for months. They might be looking forward to the match for that reason. So if Hazard couldn’t reach the final with Real Madrid, he’s probably very happy that his friends did. It doesn’t mean indifference.
Madrid had visions of Hazard replacing Cristiano Ronaldo but his move has been a failure
The rash tackle that set off Hazard’s injury problems last season was made by Thomas Meunier of Paris Saint-Germain, a Belgium team-mate. Yet it shows the frustration felt with Hazard that Wednesday’s trivial post-match incident took on meaning.
These fall-outs rarely right themselves in Madrid. Not even one of the greatest goals in the history of European finals could repair relations for Gareth Bale. Madrid’s media arm is as relentless as Sergio Ramos at his peak.
The problem is that club and player are stuck. Hazard isn’t worth £90m anymore, and Madrid don’t have the financial reserves to take a hit and go again. That’s why men like Raiola get ideas. Bad ones, obviously. God loves a trier, as the saying goes, although effort is no longer Hazard’s forte.
Appeals leave refs red-faced
Really, with the introduction of VAR, no red cards should need rescinding. A referee looks at the incident in real time; another referee reviews it with all the advantages and angles of television replays; they talk, then the first referee looks at it again with the benefit of advice and video evidence. And still gets it wrong.
Southampton have successfully appealed against the red card shown for Jannik Vestergaard’s tackle on Jamie Vardy, which everyone watching at home knew was an injustice.
Southampton’s Jannik Vestergaard had red card rescinded, but VAR should eradicate appeals
This follows West Ham winning their appeal against the red shown to Fabian Balbuena which, again, was a clear and obvious error by the match officials. West Ham have now had five of their last eight reds overturned, and have won six of their seven appeals against dismissals.
Not all were in the VAR era — one dates back to a match with Liverpool on August 29, 2015 — but two are from the last three months. This is not the fault of VAR but of those applying it. If the referees are not good enough, there is no system that will work.
Lampard deserves credit for Chelsea’s season
Supporters celebrating in the cold outside Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, had better memories than some observers.
‘Super Frankie Lampard,’ they sang. So someone does remember who actually got them into this competition that they might now win, despite a transfer ban and their best player sold to Real Madrid; who brought through the campaign’s outstanding player, Mason Mount; and who steered Chelsea through the group stage without defeat and with the second best goal difference in the tournament.
Thomas Tuchel has done a brilliant job, and if Chelsea win in Istanbul it is his triumph; but only a fool fails to acknowledge what Lampard’s brief tenure did for that club.
Depth makes the Premier League look Super
This will be the eighth Champions League final contested between clubs of the same country.
All have occurred this century. Each of the three Spanish clashes have featured Real Madrid, twice against Atletico Madrid and also against Valencia 21 years ago, while the two biggest clubs in Germany and Italy – Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and Juventus and AC Milan – have also met.
The Premier League have showed it has the best depth after yet another all-English Champions League final was set up
What is unique about the three all-English finals, is that they have involved five different clubs – Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City – including one that hasn’t secured a league title in 60 years.
It is further confirmation that the Premier League’s depth makes the best and most intense competition, and it was shameful that six clubs tried to sell that out.
Social media racism fight is a whack-a-mole
And so, less than 48 hours after the social media boycott, Raheem Sterling was racially abused on Instagram. What did anyone expect? We can have zero tolerance of racism, but not zero racism.
No matter what safeguards are put in place, while the monkey emoji exists there will always be one idiot who will click on it and press send. And while we constantly promote this behaviour – even with condemnation – it empowers the abusers and gives them feelings of worth and importance that are unjustified.
Equally, it feels like defeat; as if racism is winning. Last weekend a great many people, black and white, joined together to send a strong message of tolerance and unity.
Yet in a single nihilistic post, that positivity was swept away. There is a balance between fighting racism on a wide scale where there can be genuine progress and influence, and treating it like a social media version of whack-a-mole.
That is a game that can never truly be won, and will sap all our best efforts if we let it.
Paris St Germain claimed that Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers told two of their players to ‘f*** off’ during the match with Manchester City on Tuesday.
Just two? What admirable restraint.
Referee Bjorn Kuipers was said to have told two PSG players to ‘f*** off’ during loss to Man City
Part of the Premier League investigation into Manchester City centres on sponsorship and partnership deals and whether the club is, in effect, paying itself by accepting money from related parties such as Etihad.
So it is interesting to see how things work in Germany, where corporate structure at football clubs is above reproach and must be slavishly followed.
At Bayern Munich, three giant German companies Adidas, Audi and Allianz each own 8.33 per cent of the club and sit on the supervisory board. Herbert Hainer, formerly CEO of Adidas, Dr Werner Zedelius, senior advisor at Allianz, and Dr Herbert Diess, chairman of Volkswagen, of which Audi is a wholly owned subsidiary, then help decide how much their companies should invest as the major corporate partners of a football club they part-own.
The fourth major partner is Deutsche Telekom, whose CEO Timotheus Hottges is also on the board. So no inside track or potential conflict of interest there; because it’s Germany.
Rory’s right to snub Saudi
Ban them, as Rory McIlroy says. It really is that simple. If the founders of the Super Golf League were excluded from the majors, the biggest Tour events, the Ryder Cup, even the Olympics, who would they attract?
Phil Mickelson, maybe, who at 50 might see the $30m on offer as preferable to life on the Senior Tour, but he’s ranked 115 in the world now. He’s a name, but he’s not where the game is at.
Nobody grows up wanting to play in a soulless, artificial league that takes place on the periphery of great achievements and events. The PGA and the R&A hold the key to the greatest prizes, the PGA of America and Ryder Cup Europe the key to the greatest team event. The rest is bogus. And the best golfers already make fabulous money.
Rory McIlroy could barely hide contempt from his voice as he slammed ‘Super League Golf’
Does McIlroy need more than the $50m Forbes estimate he is worth. Might the PGA also seek to disconnect the breakaway league from the greatest venues, too?
Threaten to remove iconic locations such as Pebble Beach or Bethpage Black from the US Open rota if it deals with the rebels? Equally, if the SGL money is coming from Saudi Arabia, what price the Saudi International tournament on the European tour?
There is a reason the Crown Prince is trying to show a reformist side to the world. Losing one of his country’s major sports events and being held responsible for the destruction of the professional golf circuit is surely not part of this plan.
‘They first contacted me in 2014 and seven years down the line nothing has really changed,’ said McIlroy of the SGL organisers. He’s right. It’s a non-starter, a rebellion swiftly crushed.
Gatland will revel in proving Eddie Jones wrong
Eddie Jones does not rate Sam Simmonds. He last picked him in a 15-24 home defeat to Ireland on March 17, 2018.
Since then, Simmonds has completed a Premiership and Champions Cup double with Exeter Chiefs, been named Europe’s player of the year and is this season’s top scorer in the Premiership.
Warren Gatland will take pride in showing Eddie Jones he was wrong about Sam Simmonds
Naturally, he is in Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad, and for more than mischief’s sake, too.
But don’t think Gatland won’t also relish revealing the talent of a player Jones has ignored for three years. Coaches revel in that stuff.
Big Six cannot be surprised over lack of co-operation
Fall-out from the Super League continues to impact on the plotters. Manchester United would not, by choice, be playing twice in 72 hours next week.
They wanted to reschedule their match with Liverpool for the weekend of May 15-16, but that would have meant West Brom agreeing to move their fixture with Liverpool on the Sunday.
Citing their own fight against relegation – which may well be over – West Brom refused. Any league requires co-operation and understanding.
The big six have forfeited their right to that for the foreseeable future, having treated contemporaries with disregard. They can hardly be surprised.