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SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 07: Eden Hazard of Chelsea applauds fans after the Premier League match between Southampton FC and Chelsea FC at St Mary's Stadium on October 7, 2018 in Southampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

In a press conference with the Belgium national team on Thursday, Eden Hazard promised he would not be leaving Chelsea in January. But he also joked that to one day win the Ballon d’Or, he would need to be playing in Spain.

There is a cheekiness and honesty about Hazard that allows him to get away with such comments. Few players have ever spoken so publicly and on so many occasions about their dream of playing at another elite club.

With Hazard, though, there is no ego behind such ambition, and if he does fulfil his goal of playing at the Santiago Bernabeu, even Chelsea fans are unlikely to hold a grudge.

This is not about money or profile or his brand—it’s about trying to perform at the highest level and win the game’s biggest honours. And Hazard knows he has to get the next decision right.

Belgium's footballer Eden Hazard reacts during a press conference of the Belgian national team the Red Devils in Tubize, on October 11, 2018, on the eve of their second game in the UEFA Nations League against Switzerland. - Belgium plays their second game

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At 27 years old, Hazard’s next contract will carry him through the peak of his career. Chelsea tried on numerous occasions last season to tie him down, but for most of this calendar year, they have had to step back while the player takes focus.

Sources close to Hazard suggest he remains unlikely to commit to anything this side of 2019, as he is carefully weighing up exactly where he is going to fit best over the coming years. Deep down, he hopes it’s Madrid. But he is completely open to staying at Chelsea if they show signs of matching his ambition.

Success in the Champions League and being recognised as a realistic contender for the Ballon d’Or are among the main goals, and sources at Chelsea are aware of their need to convince him to stay.

One told Bleacher Report how there is much more fear over the knock-on effect of losing Hazard than there ever was of losing Thibaut Courtois.

The goalkeeper joined Madrid in the summer, and the Chelsea insider explained: “Everyone felt that while he is a very good goalkeeper, he was replaceable. With Hazard, there is definitely more concern that he is not going to be replaceable.”

Losing him would be a backwards step, and when Chelsea are given the green light to hold fresh talks with Hazard, one of the key aspects of the conversation will centre around how they intend to attack next summer’s transfer market and how they plan for Maurizio Sarri to turn the club back into European heavyweights.

If it comes down to financial numbers, Chelsea are willing to break the bank. Previously they had spoken about an offer of £300,000-per-week, per the Daily Mail‘s Sami Mokbel—a good leap from his current deal which is around £220,000-per-week. But Chelsea would be willing to pay even more than that now. He would be setting the bar at a new level as the highest-paid player in the club’s history.

His form this season would suggest his heart remains in London. But cynics suggest there is another reason he has been so electric this season.

One intermediary told B/R how there is talk that Hazard’s camp have had encouragement that Madrid will make contact with Chelsea over a deal at the end of the season—but only if the player is showing signs of his top form.

Last term he was inconsistent, and there were doubts over whether he could handle the pressure of delivering in big matches regularly. But this season he has been dazzling—with seven league goals and three assists from eight matches—and it could be that he has that Madrid move in mind. He needs to show he is among the absolute elite.

Over in Spain, Hazard’s name is certainly a hot topic of conversation. This week both Marca and AS ran front-page headlines building up the prospect of a move (h/t Tribuna).

Marca said the plan is for Real to sign him on the cheap with his contract running down. J.I. Garcia-Ochoa of the same publication also outlined five times when the Chelsea star has talked of his desire to move to the Bernabeu.

Hype is building at a time when Los Blancos are struggling to score goals. Life after Cristiano Ronaldo has been tricky, and Madrid find themselves in their worst goal drought since 1985, with no goals in the last four matches.

Contacts in Spain believe the dry spell is going to accelerate the plan of club president Florentino Perez to go after big names again next season. Galacticos have not been signed in recent years, but it is possible that two big name forwards will be targeted, as a central striker is also needed.

Paris Saint-Germain pair Kylian Mbappe and Neymar remain on the radar if a deal for either becomes possible, while Raheem Sterling is an interesting target, too. But Hazard seems most attainable and is appealing to the fans who want a quick fix to the post-Ronaldo blues.

For Chelsea? An optimist might suggest they could lure Gareth Bale in the opposite direction—but in reality, they will need a variety of options to fall back on.

Chelsea and Belgium midfielder Eden Hazard poses for a photograph as he arrives for The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony, on September 24, 2018 in London. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Eden Hazard is on the verge of the biggest payday of his life. In that sense, he can not lose.

If he stays at Chelsea, he becomes the highest earner in the club’s history. If he leaves for Real Madrid, he becomes a super-rich Galactico. 

But his legacy as a footballer will centre around whether he ever makes it into the same bracket as superstars like Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar.

In the past, there have been questions over whether he has the ambition to test himself at a bigger club in a more pressured environment. Now he must wait for Madrid to make their move, and we wait to discover whether he will ever be truly remembered as one of the greats.  

Bleacher Report – Front Page

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