MILAN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 02: Eden Hazard of LOSC Lille Metropole during the UEFA Champions League, group B match between FC Internazionale Milano and LOSC Lille Metropole at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on November 2, 2011 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
When you write about football rumours, there are some you simply discard straight away. You know the source is unreliable and the speculation contained therein fanciful. There are some you consider and then discard, and then next on the transfer rumour spectrum are those you consider highly likely to be false but just so interesting that they get written about anyway. That last category is where I'm filing the Daily Mail and the latest round of Eden Hazard speculation.
What have everyone's favourite gossip rag got to say about the little Belgian winger? I'm just gonna go ahead and quote it, because paraphrasing the rumour would make me feel even more dirty than writing this post in the first place:
Chelsea are closing on a deal for Lille’s Eden Hazard amid renewed competition from Real Madrid.
Sportsmail revealed at the weekend that Hazard’s agent expected an offer of around £25million to come from Stamford Bridge for the Belgian playmaker, and now sources at Lille believe the player has provisionally agreed terms with Chelsea.
That's hardly decisive language from the Mail, but it's still very interesting. If there's even a 20% chance that it's true, we should get a little bit excited about it, and say what you will about the tabloids, they rarely flat-out make stuff up. The Mail are essentially insisting that Chelsea's pursuit of Hazard this January is real and, what's more, possible.
I'm not really sure what to make of that. There are several boundaries in the way of a sale. Lille's qualification for the Champions League next season is still in major doubt - right now they're third in the table behind Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier, a position which would see them safe, but only two points separate the defending Champions and Marseille in sixth place. Losing Hazard would make it that much more difficult for Lille to make it back to next year's group stages.
Furthermore, Hazard's team already played in this year's tournament, although they finished (disappointingly) at the bottom of Group B. That means that he'd be ineligible to feature for Chelsea in Europe for the remainder of the year. While important, this shouldn't actually be a major consideration. At this point the Blues should consider European glory a secondary target at best and, like Lille, must focus on returning to next year's group stages. Still, better to prioritse players who aren't cup-tied over those who are.
Finally, there's a question of price. It's pretty obvious that Hazard would cost a lot of money and less clear that Chelsea would be willing to spend so much. Frankly, the only people who know what kind of budget the club is playing with work for the club, and it's impossible at this point to know whether Chelsea are serious about a big target until we actually hear that a bid was lodged. So far that's not been true of Hazard.
All the same, this is a fun transfer rumour. Although the 21-year-old probably isn't the magic bullet he's being treated like, he's still a fine player who would give Chelsea all sorts of options to play with. The fact that we're being linked with a guy valued by his club at €40M is far sexier than the other long-running saga we've gotten to play with this winter in new number 24 Gary Cahill, and so it's natural to get drawn in. Is this going to happen? Probably not, but you never know. This time last year Fernando Torres wasn't even on our radar.