Hazard future uncertain after Sarri claims he's not a 'leader'
Maurizio Sarri has taken a gamble by questioning Eden Hazard's leadership qualities, with Chelsea braced for Real Madrid to make their long-standing interest formal with a first bid for the Belgian.
Hazard has been stalling over his future as his Chelsea contract runs down and Real are now thought to be preparing an opening offer.
Even if their first bid falls short of Chelsea's valuation, which is upwards of £100 million, the fear at Stamford Bridge will be that Real's move will prompt Hazard to tell Chelsea he wants to leave. Hazard has 18 months remaining on his contract and Chelsea want the 28-year-old to sign a new deal worth in excess of £300,000-a-week.
But, ahead of tonight's Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge where the visitors hold a 1-0 advantage, Sarri may not have helped their long-running charm offensive.
There had been a suggestion that Hazard could replace Gary Cahill as club captain as part of a bid to convince him to stay, but the Chelsea head coach has kept Cesar Azpilicueta as his on-field leader.
Also, having described his squad as being "difficult to motivate" following the 2-0 defeat against Arsenal on Saturday, Sarri has now doubted Hazard's leadership skills.
"In this moment, he's more an individual player than a leader," said Sarri.
"He is very important for us, of course, because he is a great player. He always can win the match in two minutes. Sometimes in one minute. But, at the moment, he's not a leader. He's a great player. One of the best in the world."
The claim came as a surprise, given Hazard is captain of the Belgium national team and Roberto Martinez, said in November: "He's been a very good leader. There are many different types of leaders, but I think what Eden Hazard brings is someone you can get influenced by and who is an incredible source for younger players and who has been someone who can never, ever get affected by the pressure of the game or pressure of the situation."
Hazard, in an interview with France Football this week, admitted he has frustrated Chelsea coaches. He has gone six games without a goal and looks set to start as a false nine again against Spurs after Chelsea failed to register loan signing Gonzalo Higuain in time to play.
Sarri said: "Sometimes. I prefer him when he speaks with his feet. I think he said that coaches told him that he needs to do more. I think he has to do more because the potential is higher than the performances. He has to respect first of all himself. He has to do more. You know very well that Eden, at the moment, is a wonderful player. But he's an individual player. He's an instinctive player. For him, it's very difficult to play only in one position. He likes very much to go to the ball, in the direction of the ball.
"So it's very difficult for him to play as a striker, but also as a winger. We have to organise the other 10 players in the defensive phase because he needs to play everywhere on the pitch."
Asked if he had received any clarification on Hazard's future, Sarri said: "No, no news. I know that he is discussing with the club. I think that he has not decided yet if he wants to stay here or if he wants a new experience."
Real have identified Hazard and Tottenham's Christian Eriksen as their top summer targets, with the Dane also in the final 18 months of his contract.
Despite the fact Hazard will only have 12 months remaining on his deal in the summer, Chelsea are ready to demand at least £100 million for their star man. But Chelsea cannot afford to risk Hazard running down his contract and leaving for free, which means the club will be reluctantly forced to negotiate with Real if, as expected, they make a bid in the coming weeks.
Daily Telegraph, London
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