Roberto Martinez has claimed the arrival of Maurizio Sarri has given Eden Hazard a fresh challenge at Chelsea.
After helping Belgium finish third at this summer’s World Cup, the playmaker said “it might be time to discover something different” as he sought a move to Spain’s European champions Real Madrid.
But the shock departure of coach Zinedine Zidane from the Bernabeu Stadium and the Blues ‘ determination to hold on to their star man saw Hazard stay at Stamford Bridge.
Now, while Belgium boss Martinez admitted the futures of Simon Mignolet and Nacer Chadli at Liverpool and West Brom respectively were “worrying” before the friendly against Scotland next Friday, he insisted he was happy with how the Hazard issue has played out — and his early-season performances back in the blue shirt.
Hazard opened his Chelsea account for the season in Sunday’s win over Newcastle
The former Swansea, Wigan and Everton manager said: “It is not bad news that he has stayed in England.
“When Real wants to sign you, you can tell yourself, ‘This is the chance of a lifetime’, but Eden did not see it that way.
“Chelsea had Sarri come in and I understand that the club did not want to lose its best player. It is logical he is a wanted man. Eden is a good lad. He accepted the position and will perform this season.
“I was happy to see him back on the pitch against Arsenal and he showed he was involved in the big moments in the match.
“He said staying is not bad. But to say that is only one thing. The most important thing is what he shows on the field. I saw Chelsea’s third goal against Arsenal [scored by Marcos Alonso from a Hazard cross] and I knew enough.
“After such a World Cup, it was certainly a good time for Eden Hazard to take up a new challenge. Sarri’s arrival is good for Eden. He is ready for the new challenge and the new manager at Chelsea.”
The Blues sit joint top of the fledgling Premier League table after Sarri began his reign as successor to 2016-17 title winner Antonio Conte with victories in his first three Premier League matches.
Holders Manchester City and Liverpool were expected to be in a two-horse race for the title this season.
But former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri, who won the title with Leicester in 2016, insisted his first English club are also in the running.
“I believe the battle will be more open,” said the Italian.
“Chelsea can be the third nuisance. Sarri has arrived in the right way into the Chelsea way.
“And Gianfranco Zola [the club legend who has returned as Sarri’s No2] is a serious person and it is right that someone like him works at Chelsea.”