Chelsea will reportedly turn to Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann as a replacement for Eden Hazard, should the winger force through a move to either La Liga or Ligue 1 in the summer.
Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Rob Draper claimed the Blues have identified free-scoring Frenchman Griezmann as a potential £60 million alternative to mooted Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain target Hazard.
That hefty fee is the former Real Sociedad man's buyout clause, and it could come into play depending on the status of Atleti's currently suspended FIFA-imposed transfer ban:
The Frenchman, 24, who has been superb for Atletico Madrid in the past two seasons and is one of the most-wanted attacking players in European football, has previously been deemed off limits by the Spanish club, who were facing a FIFA transfer ban in the summer and in January 2017 for signing underage players.
Yet that ban has now been suspended for this summer while an appeal is heard, meaning Griezmann, who has a £60m buy-out clause — the most-expensive in the history of Atletico Madrid — could be allowed to leave, as the funds would allow the club to rebuild before having to miss out on the next two transfer windows.
Ironically, Draper noted Chelsea are also facing the looming spectre of a ban from the market. The Stamford Bridge club must answer questions over the role of teenager Bertrand Traore, who may have played in an U18 match back in 2011 before he was officially signed by the club.
But if the west London side is free to make moves, pursuing a deal for Griezmann is a must, even without Hazard moving away. The French forward is simply a better player than the tricky yet inconsistent Belgian.
Griezmann is the atypical modern forward, neither classic striker nor traditional winger. He can attack from wide or ghost into the middle and score goals, thanks to a fiendish combination of electric pace, underrated aerial prowess and perceptive movement.
Pinning down Griezmann to a particular style of player isn't easy, although Eurosport's Zito Madu makes an excellent attempt: "But what he has is the intelligence of a world-class midfielder in exploiting spaces, using simple one-two passes to beat defenders and converting chances to goals at a ridiculous pace. He's essentially a combination of David Silva and Diego Milito."
Griezmann is so good he's even loosened the shackles often imposed in the orderly, defensive game favoured by Atleti boss Diego Simeone, according to Eurosport's Graham Ruthven: "Simeone might demand a certain degree of defensive fibre and positional discipline from the Frenchman, but at the same time he is afforded a little more freedom than the rest of his team-mates. His talent dictates that."
Should Chelsea sell Hazard in the summer?
Combining Griezmann's off-the-ball-running, the best in Europe, with the vision of Spanish pass-master Cesc Fabregas would make Chelsea feared again.
Hazard's dip in form is a big reason why that fear factor has disappeared this season. The 25-year-old has failed to score in the Premier League, while supplying just three assists in domestic and UEFA Champions League action, according to WhoScored.com.
Those numbers are a far cry from the form that made Hazard the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year last season.
Despite his struggles, Chelsea remain confident Hazard can turn things around. Manager Guus Hiddink is predicting "beautiful times" for the silky winger, per Anthony Clavane of the Daily Mirror. But Draper insisted both Los Blancos and PSG are "monitoring Hazard's future."
If a decent offer comes from either club, Chelsea should take the money and run before trying to engineer a deal for one of the most dynamic attackers in the game today.
Hazard no longer looks like a player willing to dominate matches for the Blues, while Griezmann is the ideal fit for the club's speed-based, counter-attacking style.