A little more than two weeks after the transfer window slammed shut, it would appear that only now has the most intriguing transfer story of the season started to develop.
Seemingly on the radar of every major European club for the past 12 months, Eden Hazard looked set to surprise most by agreeing a deal to join Tottenham Hotspur in the summer, if reports in France earlier this week were to be believed.
They certainly should be, according to journalist Philippe Auclair, who described the author of the France Football article, Vincent Villa, which set tongues wagging as a ‘very serious, well-informed and reliable reporter, who's been proved right many times before.’
However no sooner had Hazard appeared on television extolling the virtues, somewhat peculiarly, of Niko Kranjcar amongst others as reason enough to join the north London club that the talented youngster started flirting with their rivals.
"There are several clubs that interest me in England and Arsenal is really a part," Hazard told Foot Sport magazine. "Of course, it's always more fun when the football is beautiful. In addition, at Arsenal, there is a French coach and French players, as well as my compatriot Thomas Vermaelen."
Goal.com reported on Friday that Chelsea, one of the clubs capable of paying the €30 million-plus fee that Lille are reportedly seeking, pulled out of the race to sign the Belgian international, while also suggesting Spurs had come close to securing his signature in January.
The same website also report that while Manchester City have shown an interest in him their new found austerity as dictated by the club’s owners in the January transfer window coupled with the availability of other transfer targets mean they are not ready to throw their hat in the ring.
With the man himself ruling out a move to either Barcelona or Real Madrid – his father believes a move to a club ‘just below the biggest’ would be a wise – it is seemingly a two horse race between the north London rivals.
For some time now Lille have been resigned to losing the chief architect of their 2010/11 double winning season, with their focus how much they can get for Hazard having locked him down into a contract that runs to 2015 rather than who to, hence the lack of reprimand for his public invitation for a bidding war.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has gone public with his admiration of Hazard, describing him as a ‘very interesting’ prospect for the Gunners.
What wouldn’t have been in the script however was their 4-0 thumping at the hands of A.C Milan that tacitly demonstrated the flaws and current weakness of Wenger’s squad that is generally believed to be the worst the Frenchman has compiled in his 16 years in charge.
Their place in next year’s competition is by no means guaranteed as they battle it out with Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle for the fourth and final qualification spot via the league – the prospect of no Champions League football for Arsenal next season is a real one, and one that would certainly have a say on Hazard’s destination given his insistence on developing his game before moving to a bigger European club.
Arsenal will hope the lure of their brand of football and the personnel at the Emirates Stadium will be enough to attract him to them, but Wenger’s recent admission that the club must turn a profit of between £15-20 million a season will certainly count against a move for Hazard, who commands a particularly large fee for a young player.
The sale of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Gael Clichy generated over £60 million for the club over the summer, with the vast majority handed back to him for new players, but Wenger’s reluctance to spend big fees and join in on the transfer window merry-go-round is well-known, especially when it is on a player untested at the top level.
Tottenham meanwhile, appear to have come from nowhere in the race for Hazard’s signature, but certainly offer the Belgian international an interesting proposition.
Speculation over manager Harry Redknapp’s future will not help any potential deal, especially after Hazard praised the 64-year-old in his television interview on Tuesday, but they are certainly a club on the up and can almost guarantee him Champions League football next year.
Their spending in January, or the lack of it, raised some questions over how much money Spurs have to spend on new players, but chairman Daniel Levy has never been afraid to back his manager when needs be, and the fact they were the fourth highest spenders in the league between 2006 and 2011 suggests that the large fee will not necessarily be out of their reach – especially with the huge sell fee the would recoup down the line.
Their brand of football will certainly suit Hazard, while the 20-year-old has seen Gareth Bale played on the left wing but allowed to drift in-field, something he would be keen to do from the right hand side of the pitch, and with a ten point gap currently separating them from Arsenal, silveware seems more likely at White Hart Lane right now.
Of course, most of Hazard’s quotes over the past week or so appear to be a transparent move to ensure that one of Europe’s elite sits up and takes notice, but if his, and his father’s, belief that it is best to join a team on the up but just below the genuine elite, the Tottenham may be his best bet.