Hazard may leave at end of season

Eden Hazard playing against Dynamo Kiev in their 0-0 Champions League draw on Tuesday, when he returned to the starting line-up after being benched for a drop in form and a lack of defensive work.
Eden Hazard playing against Dynamo Kiev in their 0-0 Champions League draw on Tuesday, when he returned to the starting line-up after being benched for a drop in form and a lack of defensive work.PHOTO: REUTERS

Patchy form prompts talk of move to Real, which could help his prospects for Belgium

LONDON • Chelsea star Eden Hazard has reportedly told family, friends and some of his international team-mates that he wants to quit Stamford Bridge at the end of the season.

The L'Equipe report comes days after Hazard "liked" a social media post that linked him with a move to Real Madrid.

The Belgium international has endured a slow start to the season and has not scored for Chelsea this season. His form is one of the reasons why the champions are 12th in the Premier League, and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has not been afraid to bench last season's player of the year.

Hazard was a substitute against Porto in the Champions League and Aston Villa in the Premier League. But he did return to the starting XI in Tuesday's goal-less draw at Dynamo Kiev.

Mourinho has cited the 24-year-old's lack of defensive work as a reason for dropping him.

According to French sports daily L'Equipe, Hazard's relationship with his manager has cooled and the player is seeking a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.

There is also speculation that Hazard's national team manager, Marc Wilmots, would support a move away from the Premier League sooner rather than later.

Belgium are one of the favourites for Euro 2016, and Wilmots is concerned that Hazard could suffer from burnout if he continues to ply his trade in England's top flight.

Sources close to Wilmots believe that, privately, he feels a move to Real would allow Hazard more freedom and a lighter work schedule, reported the Telegraph.

But Hazard signed a 5½-year contract at Chelsea in February. And Mourinho once said that, hypothetically, the forward would cost Real "£100 million each leg", "plus one of Real Madrid's three best players".

Another hypothetical scenario that has a better chance of becoming reality is the way Mourinho will respond should Chelsea be at the end of poor officiating. The Portuguese is prepared to regularly refer to match officials as "weak and naive" when frustrated by their displays, having seen Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger escape sanction for using that phrase this season.

Mourinho, who is appealing against the £50,000 (S$108,000) fine and suspended one-match stadium ban imposed after he described referees as being "afraid" to award decisions in his side's favour, pointedly aired the phrase himself for the first time in a post-match television interview in Kiev on Tuesday.

Mourinho was bemoaning the Slovenian official Damir Skomina's decision not to award a first-half penalty when Serhiy Rybalka tripped Cesc Fabregas.

Uefa is yet to determine whether Mourinho's comments could be deemed as improper conduct under its guidelines, though the manager believes he would be on safe ground whenever he makes the same assessment of a referee in the Premier League.

Wenger was not punished by the governing body for describing Mike Dean's performance as "weak and naive" in the 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge last month, in which Arsenal's Gabriel Paulista and Santi Cazorla were sent off. Defender Paulista's red card was rescinded based on video evidence.

Mourinho believes the FA's reluctance to punish Wenger set a precedent and effectively drew the line as to what constitutes improper conduct and what is acceptable. It is understood he is prepared to test that theory by using the phrase whenever he perceives decisions have gone against his team this season.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2015, with the headline 'HAZARD MAY LEAVE AT END OF SEASON'. Print Edition | Subscribe