Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri has admitted he was was concerned about losing Eden Hazard during the transfer window, but says that he has since had reassurances that the Belgian will remain at Stamford Bridge despite interest from Real Madrid.
Hazard, who has less than two years left to run on his current deal with the Blues, has yet to put pen to paper on a new £300,000-a-week deal, which remains on the table amid speculation that the 27-year-old could be set to join Los Blancos.
Thibaut Courtois has already moved from west London to Madrid and remarked that it would be “fantastic” if his Belgium team-mate could join him at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Sarri has indicated that he is calm when it comes to his star’s future.
“Of course, I was concerned about this problem,” Sarri told journalists when asked about the uncertainty surrounding Hazard.
“The first time I spoke to him, I was sure that he would stay. So I was concerned for 20 days, no more. Chelsea are one of the most important clubs in Europe.
“I think one of the most important clubs in Europe cannot sell an important player without the possibility of buying a player on the same level.”
Having taken part in the World Cup in Russia with Belgium during the summer and reaching the semi-final, Hazard returned to Chelsea without a full pre-season and was forced to settle for an appearance from the bench in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Huddersfield Town on the opening weekend.
And, while he is still playing catch up in terms of regaining full match fitness, Sarri is in no doubt about the playmaker’s ability, mentioning him in the same breath as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
“Hazard, technically, is really one of the best in Europe in this moment, I think. He has to work from the physical point of view, of course,” continued the former Napoli coach.
“In the last five years, Cristiano [Ronaldo] has played like a striker. [Lionel] Messi like a striker, Eden sometimes like a winger. Eden can improve. We are talking about one of the most important players in Europe now but, in my opinion, he can improve more.
“He can be the first. It depends on him. The best for technical skill, the best for scoring, but I think it depends only on him. On his mind.”
As well as Hazard, Chelsea were also faced with the prospect of losing another star in the form of Willian who had several offers from Barcelona, which rose to as high as £55 million, before the Catalan giants lost interest following repeated rejections.
Former Blues boss Antonio Conte had to contend with dressing room problems towards the end of his reign and Willian has since made his dislike of Conte public. However, Conte’s successor has made moves to ensure a happier camp by relaxing certain rules.
Sarri’s appointment has seen ketchup and other sauces return to the menu at Cobham Training Centre, while players are being allowed to choose how much salt and butter they want on their food as Conte’s strict diet plan is ended.
As well as that, the team will not be required to stay in hotels on the night before every game, which was an unpopular decision amongst many of the squad.
“Because I think my players are professional. They must be professional not by rules, but by a good mentality,” Sarri explained when asked about the change of approach. “I don’t know [if I have a relaxed attitude]. We talk about nutrition, but we have a very good doctor [as well]. He’s better than me (on that subject).
“We are talking about the day before the match, but that depends on the moment. Now, at this part of the season, we need to stay together the day before the match. But, in the future, when we play three times a week, maybe it would be better to stay at home before the matches. It depends upon the moment, I think.”
Chelsea’s captain under Conte in his second year was Gary Cahill, but Sarri may change that with the England international having not even made the match day squad for the match at Huddersfield.
Although Sarri hasn’t made his mind up over the captaincy, Cesar Azpilicueta has been wearing the armband during most of pre-season and the opening league game.
Rumours suggest Hazard is also in the frame, but Sarri says he is still deciding what to do over this final detail.
“As I said last week, for the moment the captain is Azpilicueta,” said the Italian. “But I want to know very well my players. In 10 days or a couple of weeks, I will be able to decide the final one.
“I don’t know [if Cahill will lose it or continue]. Maybe Cahill [will keep it]. But I’d like to know very well the players [first].”