All of a sudden, for a couple of reasons, the working relationship between Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and his star player Eden Hazard has deteriorated. Rapidly.
Hazard stated after Wednesday night’s 3-1 Champions League semi-final second leg defeat to Atletico Madrid that Chelsea were not built to play football. Instead, according to the Belgium international, they were designed solely to play on the counter-attack. More athletics than football.
Of course, Hazard may have been speaking in the heat of the moment. But the fact he criticised his manager’s tactics so openly suggested all is not well between player and coach. And that feeling was enhanced earlier today when Mourinho snapped back with a very public response - saying Hazard is “not the kind of player to sacrifice himself for the team”.
It’s a far cry from February when, in the aftermath of Chelsea’s superb 1-0 victory away at Manchester City, Mourinho hailed Hazard as the best young player in the world. There were no accusations of the winger being incapable of carrying out his defensive duties from the Portuguese coach that night.
Mourinho can’t resist reacting to criticism. He should have discussed the matter with Hazard privately, instead of biting back via the media. It’s hardly fantastic man-management from the coach who is widely regarded as being the best in the business when it comes to motivating players.
As Mourinho said himself a few months ago, there is no more talented young player on the planet than Hazard, who continues to get better and better. The recently-crowned PFA Young Player of the Year knows that any club in Europe would happily take him - and one of two might even offer him a more lucrative salary than what he currently earns at Stamford Bridge.
Maybe this was a clever ploy by Hazard to engineer a move away from Chelsea. After all, he knows Paris Saint-Germain want him, but he will remain a Chelsea player unless he actively attempts to leave the club. Rather than running the risk of alienating himself with the Blues’ supporters, what better way to force a move away than by clashing with the club’s divisive manager?
But the £80m-rated star must also be aware that, in order to fulfil his immense potential, returning to Ligue 1 is not an option - even if it means playing for the richest club on the planet and competing for the Champions League every season.
Both Manchester clubs are keeping close tabs on Hazard, who opted to join Chelsea over Manchester United in 2012, but might have regrets that he decided not to play with England’s - and one of the world’s - most famous football clubs.
Hazard could have become a legend at Manchester United, in the same way Cristiano Ronaldo did between the years of 2003 and 2009. The Belgian is capable of reaching that level - he just needs the right platform to prove it.
Hazard should be playing for a team who get the ball down and play football - rather than sitting back and breaking at speed - and that’s precisely what Louis van Gaal will encourage when he takes the reins at Old Trafford next season.
The opportunity to link up with his old pal Juan Mata and resurrect Manchester United under an attack-minded coach would surely be impossible to resist.
Hazard has clearly had enough already of working under Mourinho, whose public outburst may have already convinced the Belgian star that his future lies elsewhere.