There are few things in football more predictable than Real Madrid spending the summer transfer window attempting to extract the best players from the Premier League. So with the 2016-17 season having less than two months to run, the Spanish giants have begun their annual attempt to hoover up the cream of English football with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois reportedly their prime targets.
That Real Madrid are interested in signing them speaks volumes about how each has performed this season and is an inevitable consequence of success. Such are the machinations at the top level of the modern game, where players that catch the eye will always be in demand by the biggest clubs. Chelsea should therefore treat Real Madrid’s interest as a compliment and as a welcome challenge to the club hierarchy to persuade their players that their future prospects would benefit from staying in London.
It is easy to see why Real Madrid would be casting covetous glances towards Stamford Bridge. Hazard, especially, fits the profile of a player that would grace the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. An outrageous talent capable of deciding a game on his own and in an instant, the 26-year-old is the type of virtuoso talent that would be adored by any club’s supporters. That Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane is apparently an idol of Hazard’s and that the French World Cup winner has, in return, always spoken about him in glowing terms only adds further fuel to the rumours. And at 32, Cristiano Ronaldo will need an heir apparent in place before too long.
Real Madrid’s search for a genuine top-level goalkeeper means it also makes sense for them to be tempted into moving for Courtois. Ever since Jose Mourinho fell out with Iker Casillas in 2012-13 — the Portuguese’s final year in the Spanish capital — they have struggled to fill the void, with incumbent Keylor Navas being decent though not quite world class. Courtois, however, is certainly of that ilk and this season has shown exactly why. Often he has had to spend games watching most of the action take place at the other end but has always displayed tremendous concentration and execution when called upon.
His stupendous injury-time save of Patrick van Aanholt’s fiercely struck shot fired through a forest of players secured Chelsea a 1-0 win at Sunderland in December and is particularly memorable but is just one of many. Courtois stands alongside Manchester United’s David De Gea as the best two goalkeepers in the Premier League at present. But with Real Madrid having dramatically failed to seal the Spaniard’s transfer from Old Trafford last summer, an approach for Courtois, who has always spoken warmly of his time in Spain with Atletico Madrid, would be the next logical step for them.
For their own part, neither Hazard nor Courtois have intimated that they are ready to leave Chelsea. A recent interview with the goalkeeper stated that he was keen to stay in London, while Hazard has been continually linked with a move to the Bernabeu ever since he arrived from Lille in 2012. Nevertheless, words can count for very little, however strident they might seem as Aston Villa fans might recall from the seemingly unequivocal statements made by Fabian Delph prior to his £8 million move to Manchester City in 2015.
It is to be hoped, however, that the positive comments made by Hazard and Courtois are of greater integrity than Delph’s and that they are genuinely happy to be at Chelsea. Judging by their performances that would seem to be the case. Had firm offers been made in either of the past two summers then their loyalty might have been tested given Mourinho’s fractured relationship with much of the squad and the high-profile discord between he and Hazard in particular. Under Conte, the demand for success appears to be just as exacting as that of his predecessor but with greater reward and respect from a personal aspect.
With both players having already won a Premier League title and closing in on a second, the sole remaining major target for each of them will be lifting the European Cup. That means Conte will have to convince his two Belgian stars that they have as much chance of winning the Champions League with Chelsea as they have at Real Madrid. Given the constant upward trajectory of the team since the manager’s arrival, and Chelsea’s recent pedigree in the competition, such a claim would not be outrageous.
But it won’t just be the manager that will need to do the persuading. The situation will require lucrative contract extensions for both of them. After such an impressive season, it would be difficult for the club board to argue that Hazard and Courtois do not thoroughly deserve them.
Support InfoStride News' Credible Journalism: Only credible journalism can guarantee a fair, accountable and transparent society, including democracy and government. It involves a lot of efforts and money. We need your support. Click here to Donate