Eden ‘could be the Blues’ great­est star’

As­sis­tant coach Zola be­lieves Haz­ard should re­ject Real Madrid’s of­fer

Weekend Witness - - Sport -

CHELSEA as­sis­tant man­ager Gian­franco Zola has urged Eden Haz­ard to re­ject a po­ten­tial of­fer from Real Madrid and fo­cus on be­com­ing the Blues’ all-time great­est player.

Haz­ard has been strongly linked with Real for sev­eral months af­ter the Bel­gium star re­fused to rule out a move to the Bern­abeu and ad­mit­ted play­ing for the Span­ish giants would be a dream come true.

The 27-year-old’s cur­rent con­tract with Chelsea ex­pires in June 2020 and he is yet to agree to an ex­ten­sion as he weighs up his fu­ture.

Chelsea have re­port­edly of­fered to make Haz­ard the high­est paid player in the club’s his­tory in a bid to keep him.

But, ahead of to­day’s Premier League clash against Le­ices­ter, Zola made a per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment that was aimed to ap­peal to Haz­ard’s ego rather than his bank bal­ance.

Zola was voted the best player in Chelsea’s his­tory in 2003 af­ter serv­ing the club with dis­tinc­tion as a gifted play­maker with sim­i­lar skills to Haz­ard. The Ital­ian, now back at Chelsea work­ing for boss Maurizio Sarri, be­lieves Haz­ard is ca­pa­ble of steal­ing that cher­ished ti­tle from him if he stays at Stam­ford Bridge.

“He’s cer­tainly one of the play­ers who has given this club a lot of sat­is­fac­tion,” Zola said.

“He is 27, and hope­fully he will stay long with us and be­come even big­ger.”

Since ar­riv­ing from Lille in 2012, Haz­ard has al­ready es­tab­lished him­self as a Chelsea great — play­ing key roles in two Premier League ti­tle tri­umphs, scor­ing the win­ning goal in last sea­son’s FA Cup fi­nal and also lift­ing the Europa League and League Cup. BACK TO HIS BEST Af­ter an in­con­sis­tent cam­paign last term marred by ru­mours of a rift with then man­ager An­to­nio Conte, the mid­fielder is back to his best this sea­son, scor­ing 10 times in all com­pe­ti­tions so far. Eden Haz­ard of Chelsea cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing his team’s first goal dur­ing the Carabao Cup quar­ter-fi­nal match be­tween his side and AFC Bournemouth at Stam­ford Bridge on Wed­nes­day. PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Haz­ard un­der­lined his en­dur­ing value to Chelsea when he shrugged off a back in­jury to clinch their 1-0 win over Bournemouth in the League Cup quar­ter-fi­nals on Wed­nes­day.

The mid­fielder was not risked from the start due to a foot in­jury, but came on to score the de­ci­sive goal and is ex­pected to fea­ture when fourth­placed Chelsea host the Foxes to­mor­row.

“The dif­fer­ence was the changes we made. When Pe­dro and Eden came on, they gave us an ex­tra gear,” Zola said. “Eden is the type of player who can make a big dif­fer­ence when he comes on, even for 20 min­utes.”

Jamie Vardy is set to re­turn for Le­ices­ter af­ter he was rested for the League Cup de­feat against Manches- ter City on Tues­day.

Vardy has been strug­gling with a groin in­jury and Le­ices­ter boss Claude Puel did not want to risk ag­gra­vat­ing the prob­lem in mid­week.

But Le­ices­ter’s five-goal top-scorer should be avail­able to face Chelsea as he tries to kick-start his splut­ter­ing sea­son. “I hope Vardy can be fit for this match and can find his qual­i­ties,” said Puel, whose mid-ta­ble team have gone four games with­out a win in all com­pe­ti­tions.

“With his qual­ity and his ag­gres­sive­ness, he is a very good player for us. We need Jamie, with his abil­ity, ca­pac­ity and char­ac­ter, to give his best.

“Of course, it has been dif­fi­cult for him with in­juries and sus­pen­sions this sea­son, but he is a valu­able player for us and we need Jamie to be at his best for us.”

Ben Chilwell could also start af­ter the Eng­land left-back missed Le­ices­ter’s last two matches with a knee in­jury. — AFP.

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