Eden Hazard’s father, Thierry, has insisted it is “out of the question” that his son will leave Chelsea in the summer. “Eden has a contract until 2020”, he said, presumably in misguided faith that contracts still hold sway in the modern era, and in response to links with Paris St Germain, Hazard senior was clear, “Eden has never said he wanted to play for PSG”.
Still, that won’t stop the rumours circling as the Belgian winger did his best to exacerbate them by saying “it would be difficult to say no” to a move south across the Channel as Chelsea prepared to take on their Parisian rivals in the last-16 of the Champions League.
“[It is] difficult to say no to any of the teams capable of winning the Champions League” Hazard told La Parisian. “PSG are now in that category. And for me, winning the Champions League is my main aim.”
PSG then preceded to knock Chelsea out and it was concerning to once again witness Hazard struggle to have an influence in the second leg home defeat in which the French champions gave a convincing display of how far more likely they are to win Europe’s premier competition before Chelsea can realistically dream of repeating their 2012 triumph.
Loss of form
In the 1-2 defeat to PSG, an anonymous Hazard was noticeable only when he swapped shirts with Angel Di Maria at half-time which helped to generate the small number of boos that were audible when he signalled to the bench that he was ready to be replaced by Oscar in the second half. On the night when Chelsea needed their leading players to be at their very best, Hazard was meek, disinterested and resembled somebody who wanted to be anywhere else than Stamford Bridge.
Worryingly that has become the norm for a player who has suffered such an astonishing loss of form since being crowned both the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards as he helped to fire Chelsea to a league title and league cup double last season.
The Belgian scored 14 goals that season, as many as the year before, and chipped in with 9 assists. This term he is yet to score in the league and has only two strikes to his name, both in the FA Cup. Just five assists have come in all competitions in a season illustrated with a series of mystifyingly ineffective performances as Hazard appears stuck in a rut he simply can’t climb out of.
Hazard may have hit the wall that inhibits so many players that enter a third season under Jose Mourinho’s intense management, troubled by hip pain that his father says has troubled the winger for three to four months and which required the 25 year old needing surgery following a kick from Jamie Vardy in the 2-1 defeat to Leicester.
That night marked the end of Mourinho’s second spell in charge and the sight of Hazard limping off with little desire to remain on the pitch for such a pivotal game served to amplify the conspiracy theorists that accused Hazard, together with Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, deliberately undermined the outgoing Portuguese coach and contributed significantly to the “palpable discord” in the dressing room that hastened his exit.
The Belgian’s involvement in that is probably not true, but he wasn’t blameless and an apologetic text sent to his former coach in the aftermath spoke volumes.
“I felt a little bit guilty because I’d been player of the year. I’d been one of the most decisive players, and this year I’d performed less well” Hazard said, “I hadn’t been at the same level.” But the problem is he hasn’t rediscovered that level under Guus Hiddink and looks as far away from it as ever, perhaps because of the hip troubles that continue to hamper him.
Conte has his work cut out
Whatever lies behind the malaise, Antonio Conte, due to takeover at Stamford Bridge in the summer, will have to try and solve the enigma or work out whether it is worth solving at all.
The former Juventus manager will arrive in London with Chelsea exiled from the Champions League for at least a year and with Hazard’s ambitions to win it previously spelled out, a move to PSG or Real Madrid, with a transfer to the Spanish capital now rumoured, could be too attractive for the 25 year old to ignore.
Conte’s Chelsea will be in a spell of deep transition but a fit and in-form Hazard will greatly enhance their chances of returning to Europe’s top table with haste, but just how easily will Conte be able to coax it out of him? Would the Italian be tempted to cut his losses and cash in the £50 million-plus Hazard would still demand despite a miserable season and use it to help mould his own squad?
Chelsea have been adamant they will not accept any bid below crazy-money for their Belgian winger but it is usually no longer the club who holds the power in these instances and they are questions the new management team will urgently have to address.
Those questions will be in the future however and a strong end to the season from Hazard, as well as a promising Euro 2016 campaign out in France with Belgium, will make Conte’s thinking slightly easier. In the short term however, to aid a resurgence, Hiddink is planning on giving Hazard a short-term break in the hope that it will restore him to the marauding winger that bewitched the Premier League last season.
If it doesn’t then Conte may only find one solution; to end this once happy-marriage that has puzzlingly turned sour so quickly.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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