Antonio Conte accused Real Madrid of trying to unsettle Eden Hazard but insisted that Chelsea should be proud, and take the campaign to sign their best player as flattery.
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has made Hazard his number one priority this summer and Real would break the bank to prize him away from Stamford Bridge.
Having played and coached at the top level his whole career, Conte knows exactly what Real Madrid are doing. He said that Madrid’s push to sign Hazard was “part of the game” and an attempt to get into the Belgian forward’s head. But he did not condemn and said that Chelsea should be proud of having a player so coveted by the most glamorous club in the world. Conte himself said he was “happy” with the developments.
“This is a part of the game,” Conte shrugged, when asked about the Hazard interest. “To put these rumours out there, and to put a bit of difficulty in the mind of the players. But we have great experience of facing this situation, and so do my players. It's normal to start rumours about our players at this stage of the season.”
Hazard was footballer of the year in 2014-15 and could win the same prize again this season as he inspires Chelsea towards another Premier League title. He could legitimately claim to be the third best player in Europe right now, behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. That is a triumph of Conte’s coaching this season and so the Chelsea manager took it as a compliment that Real Madrid want Hazard so much.
“It means we are doing a great job, so I'm happy,” Conte said. “If Chelsea's players are linked with other teams, it means they are doing very well.”
There was no anger or frustration from Conte about the Hazard campaign, only pride.
“I think it's positive,” Conte said. “When other top teams want your players, it means we are doing a really good job together with the players. That's great. We must be proud of this. It means we have, in our team, good players who are doing a good job.”
Despite all of this surprising pride, Conte was clear that he thinks Hazard should stay at Chelsea for next season and beyond. “I think that we are already a great club with great ambition,” Conte said. “We want to build something important for the present and the future. I think we have just started (on) our path.”
Conte has not yet spoken with Hazard about the interest in him but just wants to focus on his football, for now. Hazard will have a late fitness test on a calf injury but Conte was confident he could face Crystal Palace on Saturday.
“I don't think it's important to talk with him,” Conte said. “I like to talk to him about this season, about the importance of this game. He missed the last game against Stoke City and his form, we have to check his form. But I hope he stays very well and shows tomorrow great things, to play great football. I like to talk about this, not other things.”