By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
Chelsea have pulled out of the running to sign Eden Hazard as Tottenham move closer to a deal for the Lille sensation despite failing in a spectacular bid to sign him in late January, Goal.com can disclose.
The Belgian playmaker has said in interviews this week that he wants to move to the Premier League in summer, and has spoken particularly of his admiration for Spurs and Arsenal.
Chelsea were widely regarded as one of the favourites to land the £35 million-rated Hazard, not only because of their financial might and relative lack of creative star quality but because of their links to the top Belgian youngsters following the recruitment of Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin de Bruyne in the last two transfer windows.
As revealed by Goal.com, Chelsea spoke to the player’s representatives last month but senior Stamford Bridge figures have now let it be known that they will not pursue one of the hottest properties in Europe over the coming months.
“Chelsea are not going to sign Hazard,” a source told Goal.com. “They said, ‘we know him and like him but we are not going to do it’.”
Tottenham have emerged as the new favourites to sign the 21-year-old in a week in which Hazard publicly declared he would be interested in a move to White Hart Lane and his father, Thierry, suggested it would be a smart career move.
Goal.com can also reveal that Spurs were close to completing the shock signing of Hazard in the final days of the January window and will make a concerted effort to prise him from Lille again in the summer recess.
Hazard and his agent John Bico had a meeting with Spurs boss Harry Redknapp last month, while chairman Daniel Levy and fellow director Darren Eales travelled to France on at least two occasions to hold talks with Lille.
Redknapp ran a personal check on Hazard when he flew out to watch him in action in mid-January at the Stade Velodrome against Loic Remy's Marseille.
Forty-eight hours before the window closed last month, Spurs thought they were close to pulling off what would have been a sensational coup but an agreement could not be reached with the Ligue 1 club.
Lille, who tied the player to an extended contract last summer that runs until 2015, value Hazard at around £35 million and there are widespread reports in France and Belgium that he has a €40m (£33.2m) release clause in his contract.
However, Hazard’s camp believe Lille’s price tag is merely a starting point in negotiations and that the player could be bought for less than £30m, possibly even £25m.
With Chelsea out of the running and Arsenal an increasing outsider, Hazard’s options are narrowing if he is as committed to a move to the Premier League as he has said in separate TV and magazine interviews this week.
Speaking to Sport Foot Magazine, Hazard said: “Who does not dream of Real Madrid? Or Barcelona? I’m obviously not against the idea. But I am convinced that, for now at least, the ideal for me would be England.”
His father added: “Yes, there is interest from Spurs, and no, there's no offer. The priority for Eden is one thing: games. Opportunities. It might be better to join a club just below the biggest.”
Manchester City remain a possible destination for Hazard, and have the financial clout to blow most of their competitors out of the water, but they are believed to have other priorities in the transfer market this summer.
Nevertheless, Patrick Vieira, the club’s football development executive and an influential figure at Etihad Stadium, is believed to be a big admirer of Hazard’s match-winning ability, which has yielded nine goals and six assists in league competition this season.