Eden Hazard's legend is draped in Chelsea blue
It is fair to say that Chelsea fans love their legends. The likes of Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba embody this passion. Supporters continue to chant their names years after they stopped playing at Stamford Bridge. Now, the Blues only current superstar remains on an expiring contract and linked with a move away.
Real Madrid circle around Eden Hazard like vultures tracking a dying water buffalo. Only, the Belgian isn't a water buffalo. Nor is he anywhere near on his last legs. The 27-year-old forward is in the best form of his life and a known admirer of Los Blancos. Nevertheless, it's in his best professional interest to stay in London.
Many expect a move to Real Madrid will fast-track Hazard's football growth and put him on the podium for the Ballon d'Or in short order. The arguments are valid. Quite reasonably, the Belgian's head may be turned. He should beware the atmosphere at the Santiago Bernabeu, however. The way things are going in the Spanish capital, he'll need more than luck to get through. So many unlikely factors must work in his favour.
Real Madrid need more than a figurehead to restore them to their customary place in the top two. The club must replace tired, lethargic legs with young, fresh ones. With a stadium to refurbish, club president Florentino Perez appears content to rely upon academy players from La Fabrica. Unfortunately, none have the talent to make up for their lack of experience. If Hazard comes to Madrid, he could find himself leading a scout troop.
Perez may change his mind if new boss Santiago Solari can't make do with the unpolished tools at his disposal. A flurry in the summer window may bring in several players. Then the question becomes how long it will take for everyone to settle? If the squad struggles, Hazard will take the brunt of the criticism as the face of the club. The opportunity to be the next big star is there for him but it's at the Bridge rather than the Bernabeu.
Don't misunderstand. Chelsea have their issues, too. Maurizio Sarri needs a defender or two, not that he's prepared to listen. Even so, the Blues are closer to domestic and European glory than Real Madrid at the moment. After investing seven seasons at the club, why throw it away just when everything looks to be coming together?
Real have a host of other stars who will challenge his place in the vanguard. Gareth Bale is prolific when healthy. Isco weaves sorcery when a manager not named Solari is in charge. Marco Asensio is coming into his own. Hazard's place is firmly established with Chelsea. The club demonstrated their commitment by hiring an adventurous coach like Maurizio Sarri and spending heavily to sign the best playmaker in Europe. Play through his prime years in London and he will join Terry, Lampard and Drogba in the pantheon of Chelsea greats. Move to Spain and he risks being just another star who passed through both cities.