Eden Hazard to Real Madrid: Factors That Will Decide Chelsea Star's Future
Chelsea's brilliant Belgian has returned to form this season to inspire the Blues towards the Premier League title, and as a result, the club face a new battle to hold on to their most valuable player.
It has been reported by The Telegraph's Matt Law that he will be offered a new contract at Chelsea, but fresh news from The Mirror's John Cross suggests he will also be the subject of a world-record bid this summer.
So just how close is Hazard to walking away from Blues boss Antonio Conte and into the arms of Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane?
I have been looking into the story to determine the factors that will help decide where he will be playing next season.
Real Madrid's Pursuit
Zidane and Real president Florentino Perez have a shared passion in signing Hazard.
It has not always been the case at Madrid that both manager and president want to prioritise the same marquee player, but this time the vision seems clear.
One source close to the club explained to me how Hazard has been on the club's radar for five years. They had scouts tracking him before he left Lille but vowed to continue to track his development at Chelsea.
Clearly reports during that period will have reflected the fact he has become one of the top game-changers in club football.
The fact that Zidane has respect for his style of play will help the situation. Likewise, Hazard has always admired Zidane and recently told France Football: "For me, Zidane and Ronaldinho are artists."
Word from Spain is that the next Galactico signing is on the horizon and that Hazard is the man likely to head the list of targets. A meeting towards the end of the season will cement whether they push ahead with a formal bid, but it would have to be a staggering fee to tempt Chelsea into a sale.
The Conte Influence
The 2015/16 campaign was one to forget for Hazard. From 31 Premier League outings he scored four goals and managed four assists, marking a dramatic drop from the season before when he found the net 14 times and set up a further 10.
There was plenty of talk last summer that he would take the opportunity to move away. But a lack of Champions League football did not bother Hazard. Rather than cut his ties, he wanted to remain at Stamford Bridge and prove that he could bounce back from a poor campaign.
Under new manager Antonio Conte, the Belgian quickly found a new lease of life. He scored seven times from his first 11 Premier League outings and continued to thrive after Conte altered Chelsea's playing system.
Chelsea insiders are convinced that a good relationship between the pair will prove a key factor in him remaining with the Blues. As soon as Conte was appointed Chelsea boss back in April, he set up a meeting with Hazard and explained how his system at Chelsea would see a rise in his output.
The manager has been true to his word; Hazard has 14 league goals and five assists, and Chelsea look like winning the title.
Hazard is quietly optimistic they may also be able to win the Champions League if he sticks around for the next part of Conte's west London masterplan.
Hazard is Chelsea's highest-paid player, and the club are willing to raise his current wage to ensure that remains the case going forward.
He has three years remaining on his contract and earns just under £200,000-a-week—but money is not his biggest motivator.
Hazard is a modest man living a quiet life. Of course he wants to be recognised for his ability, but ultimately that is outweighed by his ambition to win trophies and ensure his young family are happy and comfortable.
Hazard and wife Natacha have three sons and are well settled near Chelsea's Surrey training base.
One source in Belgium told me they think Hazard does have an urge to move to Spain at some point in his career, but right now he would find it difficult to leave.
The Cost of a £200m Double Exit
Hazard may enjoy living in England, but team-mate Diego Costa does not seem as keen. The worst-case scenario for Chelsea this summer is that both players leave the club.
A report from The Sun's Mark Irwin and Andrew Dillon detailed how the future of the £200 million-rated pair is in serious doubt.
But would Roman Abramovich really allow his club to lose their two most valuable assets in the same transfer window? It is extremely unlikely.
Contacts I have spoken to remain convinced that it is more likely Costa will leave this year, due to the fact he has not settled in England and would embrace a new challenge abroad. Remember, he already seriously weighed up interest from the Chinese Super League, as I reported here. He would welcome a move to Spain if the right club comes calling.
What Happens Next?
Chelsea will make sure Hazard knows exactly how much he means to them. By offering a pay rise and showing that this new Blues side is being built around him, they intend to make him feel there is no need to head elsewhere on the continent.
Of course, if Real Madrid do decide to move ahead with an offer, then it will have to be discussed. But even at £100million, Chelsea would be happy to turn it down.
From sources I have spoken to, the most likely option seems that Hazard will stick around in London for now to see what else Chelsea can achieve.
There is a belief that Madrid would be willing to wait one more year to sign him and that perhaps the summer of 2018 will prove to be the time for Hazard to become a Galactico.