Thursday 24 August 2017

'The only thing I can say is Eden is a Chelsea player' - Conte unfazed by Real Madrid interest in Hazard

Antonio Conte manager of Chelsea celebrates victory with Eden Hazard of Chelsea after the match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Antonio Conte manager of Chelsea celebrates victory with Eden Hazard of Chelsea after the match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Matt McGeehan

Antonio Conte concedes Eden Hazard's wish is all important as Real Madrid pursue the playmaker, with the head coach urging the Belgian to fulfil his ambitions with Chelsea.

Hazard was this week linked with a £100million move to Real, whose head coach Zinedine Zidane is the Belgian playmaker's idol.

Conte says he can improve Hazard, who has sparkled as Chelsea surged to a 10-point Premier League lead with 10 games to go.

Conte says it is flattering for his Chelsea players to have admirers, but insists Hazard, who is under contract until 2020, is happy at Stamford Bridge.

And the Italian, whose own future has been subject of speculation amid rumours of interest from Inter Milan, believes this is just the start of a new era at Stamford Bridge.

"It's very important (to establish) the will of the player," Conte said ahead of Saturday's clash with Crystal Palace.

"If the player is happy and the player knows he will stay in a great team with great ambition, I don't see any problem.

"Also if this club can call (itself) Real Madrid.

"We started to build something important and the ambitions of this club are top.... the same as mine, as my players'.

"I'm sure about this, that you'd be staying in the right place, in a great club, with great ambition.

"He's a young player and he has a lot of improvement in his path as a footballer."

Conte says the Premier League is superior to other leagues, in a pointed remark about the established Real-Barcelona duopoly in LaLiga which Atletico Madrid have challenged.

He added: "To win the Premier League is a great challenge and a more difficult challenge for a player or a coach... than all the other leagues. This league is really top in all aspects."

Conte is unfazed by Real apparently courting Hazard, who is in contention to play Palace following a calf injury, believing it is normal for suitors to try to unsettle players.

"It's normal, it's logical in this part of the season, to start rumours about our player... to try to create difficulty in the mind of the players," he said.

"The only thing I can say is Eden is a Chelsea player, our player.

"We are happy with him. He is happy with us. I don't see a problem."

Conte was asked about Chelsea improving on a first season under his charge which could yet end in a league and FA Cup double. Champions League football next term is near certain.

Chelsea require 21 points to win the title and will be seeking to extend a club record winning run at home of 13 games on Saturday. The Blues also play Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final.

Conte refused to discuss reported interest in Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez - "He's a top player. I can say this. But I don't like to talk about players from other teams because it's disrespectful," he said - but says the club share his ambition.

Conte, who could be rewarded with a new contract at the end of the season and to end the Inter rumours, added: "For us the most important thing is to finish this league and try to win.

"Then, once this season is finished, with the club together we will talk about the right way to try to improve our team, our squad.

"It will be very important, but I don't see any problems about this.

"This club has great ambitions. It was so in the past, and it will be so in the future. I'm very happy to be coach of this club."

Chelsea captain John Terry, who has not made a Premier League start since September, is out of contract this summer.

Rumours have begun of defender Terry being offered another one-year contract extension.

Conte, who again repeated that contracts and transfers would be addressed at the end of the season and his players should focus on the present, said: "John knows my thoughts about him and I think the most important thing is this."

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