Even as Chelsea canter towards the Premier League title they face a difficult summer, with Real Madrid targeting both Hazard and Thibaut Courtois. Conte knows that all of his hard work this season will be undermined if he loses his top players.
So at his press conference on Friday afternoon, Conte sold a bold vision of Chelsea’s future to his brilliant little Belgian. Conte spoke proudly of how Chelsea are “building something important” together, top by a distance in what is still a transitional season. With the foundations in place they have grand ambitions, at home and in Europe. This would be the worst possible time to abandon ship.
Hazard is about to win his second Premier League title at Chelsea and it is not hard to see why a new league, a bigger club and more money might be attractive to the 26-year-old. But at the very top of the game competitive fulfilment can matter even more than salary, and Conte told Hazard to be part of the great side he is building here.
“It is very important to stay, to feel that you stay in the right place with ambition,” Conte said. “When you arrive at being a top player, you want to fight to win and be competitive in every trophy you have to play for. We are building something important together. We have just started our building [work]. Now we are putting the foundations in.”
Conte’s success in taking Chelsea to the title is even more impressive because he has phased out stalwarts Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, John Obi Mikel and Oscar, while building a team that is set to record a huge points total. That puts Conte’s Chelsea project well ahead of schedule.
“If we are able to win the league this season,” Conte said, “we will be doing an incredible path, an incredible thing because we are in a moment that the club is in transition. A lot of old players have finished their careers at Chelsea. To win this season is great, we are putting great foundations down to build something important for the future. The players feel this.”
Conte hopes Hazard feels that way too. “In this situation I think it is very important the will of the player,” he said. “If the player is happy and knows he will stay in a great team with great ambition, I don't see any problem. Even if the [interested] club is Real Madrid. We are a great club.”
Hazard will know that there is big money interest too in Conte himself, from Internazionale, but Conte reasserted his own commitment to the club, and the club’s commitment to the team. This summer could certainly go one of two ways, but Conte sounded bullish about their prospects.
“We started to build something good for the future, and the ambitions of this club are the same as mine and my players,” Conte said, painting a picture of unity. “We stay in the right place if you want to be competitive in the game, to be competitive in the future. I hope to play in the Champions League next season. You would be staying in the right place, in a great club with great ambition. I can tell this with 100 per cent.”
Of course Conte’s current focus is the league, and he wants to get well above 90 points. But as soon as the title is won the focus will be the transfer market. Chelsea want a big money striker and bodies in defence and midfield. If they recruit well they could do what no team has done since Manchester United in 2009 and retain the Premier League title.
“Once this season is finished, with the club together we will talk about the right way to try and improve our team and our squad,” he said. “That 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.”
But ultimately it all depends on Hazard. If he desperately wants to go to Real Madrid he will find a way to end up there, although the strong likelihood is that he will not. For Hazard there was an ominous promise that Conte can somehow extract even more from him. “Yes, he can improve,” said Conte. “He's a young player with a lot of improvement in his path as a footballer. Before you finish your career, you can always improve. Always.”