Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid side are currently on their holidays after a disappointing season where they finished third in La Liga and crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage.
But when the full squad return for pre-season training on July 10, things will quickly get hectic again as they soon depart on their tour of the United States.
Los Blancos will contest a number of high-profile pre-season friendlies, starting against Bayern Munich in Texas on July 20 before the Whites take on Arsenal three days later in Maryland.
Real will then face La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid in New Jersey on July 26, before rounding off their productive pre-season campaign with a clash against Champions League finalists Tottenham in Munich.
The La Liga fixtures have yet to be announced.
Below are the crucial dates in Real Madrid’s pre-season schedule:
20 July: Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich. NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
23 July: Real Madrid vs Arsenal. FedExField, Maryland
26 July: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid. MetLife Stadium, New Jersey
30 July: Real Madrid vs Tottenham. Allianz Arena
The 28-year-old Belgium forward has completed his 150 million euro move to the Spanish giants from Chelsea after passing a medical in Madrid on Thursday.
Hazard last week revealed joining Real had been a dream of his since childhood and reiterated his desire to win many trophies with the underperforming Blancos, who finished third in La Liga last season and made an early exit from the Champions League, before turning his focus to personal ambitions.
Following a presentation ceremony and a ball-juggling show on the Bernabeu pitch in front of a rapturous 50,000-strong crowd of Real fans, he undertook his first official press conference.
“I’m going to try to become the best player in the world, but first I wanted to be in the best team in the world,” Hazard told reporters. “I’m not a ‘Galactico’ – I hope to be one day – I am Eden Hazard.
“At Real Madrid you have to win as much as possible and hopefully I can write another page in the history of the club.”
Hazard maintained ever since his record-breaking transfer from Chelsea was announced that he was motivated to join Real by a dream shared with his brothers Thorgan and Kylian – now both professional footballers – since their days kicking a ball about in the family garden back in Braine-le-Comte.
But a key secondary motivation was the presence of former France playmaker Zinedine Zidane as head coach at the Bernabeu – the three-time Champions League-winning manager stepped down in May 2018 but returned this March following the miserable tenures of Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari.
Hazard said: “Everyone knows Zidane has been my idol since I was a child, and him being the Madrid boss was an important factor for me coming here.”
He has designs on the 10 shirt – the replica handed to him for official photographs bore a name but no number on Thursday – but joked that current incumbent Luka Modric is not willing to give it up.
“I’ve been lucky enough to talk to Modric through (Chelsea loanee Mateo) Kovacic and asked him to give me number 10 but he said no,” said Hazard. “It’s not important to me, it’s just important to wear the shirt, with this badge on it.”
The Belgian would not be drawn on rumours that Los Blancos will go back to the Premier League to make a bid for Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, or attempt a raid on Paris St Germain for Kylian Mbappe.
Hazard said: “Pogba and Mbappe are among the best players out there and I want to play with the best, but I’m not the one who decides – we’ll see what’s going to happen in the future.”
Real fans may get their first look at him in action for Real when Los Blancos meet Bayern Munich in an International Champions Cup friendly in Houston on July 21. A game against Arsenal follows in Landover, Maryland three days later.
Provided by Press Association Sport
It says everything about the pedestal to which Wales have ascended in recent years that, just over 12 months into the job and following two straight defeats (seven in 13 overall), the pressure is already mounting on manager Ryan Giggs.
There are already more than a few dissenting voices who believe he’s not the right man to drag the Dragons forward and fire them to their next major tournament.
Wales fans are living in an enchanted era. For so long they roamed the international wilderness, yet a quantum leap was made when they heroically and unexpectedly made the semi-finals of Euro 2016. Memorably beating Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-finals before losing 2-0 to Portugal in the last four. It was an immense achievement by one of the most talented Welsh squads of recent times.
Vindication for Chris Coleman who’d had the unenviable task of following his friend and the man championed for Wales’ recent rise, Gary Speed. It was also justification for Speed and those who stuck by him in the early days of his appointment in December 2010 when results weren’t going so well.
The former Leeds, Everton and Newcastle midfielder had implemented a root and branch restructuring of Welsh football, both on and off the field. It all came to fruition on that blistering July 1 evening in Lyon when Speed, Coleman and every Welsh football fan’s dreams were surpassed following a magical night on which they beat a star-studded Belgium team and reached their first-ever semi-final.
Since a certain 17-year-old Pele scored the only goal as Brazil knocked them out of the 1958 World Cup quarter-finals in Sweden, Wales had gone 58 years without another major tournament appearance.
The blueprint had now been set. From out of the international backwaters, Wales had become a rising force. A lowly 117th in the FIFA world rankings as recently as 2011 (their worst-ever position), Wales climbed to their highest position of 8th on their way to qualifying for Euro 2016.
And they have not dropped outside the top 20 since 2014 (they currently occupy 19th, two places below Italy and three adrift of Nations League finalists the Netherlands).
The problem with success though, is that it breeds expectation. And Wales have failed to live up to their lofty Euro 2016 standards in the ensuing three years.
It was hoped the feel-good factor would spill over into World Cup 2018 qualification but they buckled under the weight of an expectant nation as an opportunity to end a 60-year hiatus from the World Cup was torpedoed.
The appointment of iconic former player Giggs was seen as a positive step in January 2018, and there have generally been many positives. There is a lot of excitement surrounding a new breed of young players being championed by Giggs. But this is both his secret weapon, and Achilles heel.
Speed and Coleman both had their individual challenges. Speed was attempting to write a totally new script for Welsh football in order to take it forward after years of mediocrity and failure. Vital progress was made but his tragic death in November 2011 meant Coleman was always seen as a usurper, at least at the beginning. Once he was able to stamp his own mark on the team though and manage his way rather than Speed’s, Wales flourished.
But the challenge facing Giggs is another unique one. He has the task of nurturing and integrating some hugely promising players. But he is trying to introduce them to a squad of which, now, so much more is expected. There is more limelight, so every single move is scrutinised that little bit more.
Ashley Williams and Joe Ledley were two indomitable figures of the immortal squad that wrote such a glorious chapter in Welsh football history. But their form – for club and country – dropped off a cliff after 2016.
The likes of Bournemouth defender Chris Mepham, and Anderlecht’s James Lawrence, seem to be Giggs’ preferred new choice at centre-back.
But despite his struggles since moving to Everton, both in terms of form and injuries in his twilight years, it’s a juggling act for Giggs to both bring talented, yet raw, players into an elite environment, as well as delicately phase out stalwarts like Williams, Chris Gunter, Neal Taylor and Sam Vokes.
Obviously, star attractions Gareth Bale and Joe Allen (both 29), and Aaron Ramsey (28), still have vital roles to play. Whereas they have always been the gold standard over the last decade or so, their support cast has been able, if not outstanding.
Some of the players Giggs is attempting to introduce have the potential to be Wales’ next stars. The problem is they’re all so young and raw, it’s going to take a painstaking and prolonged period for them to get to the point where they can deliver consistently.
David Brooks, Harry Wilson, Ben Woodburn, Ethan Ampadu, Daniel James, Matt Smith, Conor Roberts and Mepham are names that could become the bedrock of the Wales team for the next 10 years.
With Bale, Allen, Ramsey and other reliable cast members like Ben Davies and Wayne Hennessey still also part of the production, Wales certainly possess stardust. An ensemble that has the capacity to surpass even the summer 2016 blockbuster.
The problem is this; because Wales have rediscovered an appetite for dining once again at football’s top table, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when things don’t run so smoothly.
And following chastening back to back defeats to Croatia and Hungary on the road to Euro 2020 qualification, frustration abounds. Epitomised by wide discontent and the feeling that Giggs isn’t the man for the job.
But, just like Speed and Coleman, he needs time. Speed lost five of his 10 tragically short games in charge. Coleman lost five of his first six and, after the same amount of games as Giggs, had one more win (4) but also one more defeat (8).
Things turned out pretty well for him.
Time to harness and hone the undoubted talent he has at his disposal is required. Will he get that time, should Wales fail to make a second major tournament in a row? That’s a tricky call to make. But it must be remembered just how far Wales have come in the last decade.
Patience is pivotal. This current new wave could be the greatest breakthrough of youth in the nation’s history.
Giggs was the famed ‘Class of 92’ spearhead, nurtured by Eric Harrison and brought through by Sir Alex Ferguson, at Manchester United.
He knows a thing or two about reaping the rewards of allowing youngsters time and space to grow.
The last few results have been far from pleasing or encouraging, but now is not the time to abandon ship and steer it on a drastic new course.
Now is the time to believe and back the boss. It is time to remember and reiterate the famous Welsh motto forged during Euro 2016 qualifying – #TogetherStronger.
Put the trust in Giggs to bring this talented group together and they – and Wales – will emerge stronger for it.