Antonio Conte insists Chelsea are determined to keep hold of Eden Hazard but admits the player himself will have a major say in determining whether he can be lured away from Stamford Bridge by Real Madrid.
The Spanish club have targeted the 26-year-old and are believed to be preparing a £100 million bid that would make Hazard the world’s most expensive player. Conte, though, remains confident the Premier League leaders will do all they can to hold on to a player who has three years left to run on his current contract, but he concedes that Chelsea’s chance of fending off interest from the Bernabeu Stadium will also hinge on the player’s will.
“I don't think that this idea (to sell Hazard) is in the mind of the club,” Conte said. “I think we have to improve the team, to reinforce the team. But you know that, in football, there is also the will of the player. But I think, also Eden is very happy to stay in Chelsea, to stay with us and work with us. Yes. I can tell this. But the future... I haven't a crystal ball, no.”
Asked if Chelsea can hold onto a player in the face of a firm approach from Real Madrid, he added: “I think that everything is possible, everything is possible in football. But not only for Eden, but for every single player. Everything is possible. You must understand that there are different wills to compare, and then to take the decision.”
Hazard has been revived this season after falling below his usual standards during Chelsea’s dismal title defence last year. Pipped for the PFA player of the year award by team-mate N’Golo Kante, Hazard is a strong contender for the Footballer of the Year award and Conte believes the player is happy to remain where he is right now.
“I think Eden is very happy to stay with us and work with us,” said Conte. “I think his family is very happy to stay here and play for this team, for this club. The fans love him and I think there are a lot of positive things that bring him to stay here and to try to reach the best with this club. Don't forget, the target of this club is to try to win in every competition we play in.
“I think, this season, he improved a lot, not only on the pitch but also, I think, he's becoming stronger, mentally stronger. I think at this level it's very important to try to have this step because this step brings you up to the best players in the world. And I think that Eden is starting to do this step. I can only talk about this season. I see a player with good maturity, a player who wants to be decisive during the game. I can tell this.”
Chelsea travel to Everton on Sunday and could open the gap at the head of the Premier League to seven points before Tottenham Hotspur, who lie second, face Arsenal later in the day.
“I told you before that this league... we have to fight until the end for this league because I watched the fixtures, and then I knew our fixtures and the difficulty of the games we had to face,” added Conte. “For this reason, I said we'd have to fight until the end to win this title. I'm sure whoever wins this title will be one point or two points, not a lot of points.”