Eden Hazard must score more goals to be considered on a similar level to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, says Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte.
Belgium international Hazard was the star of Chelsea’s 2014-15 and 2016-17 Premier League title wins and is again performing impressively this time around.
The 26-year-old’s father cast doubt on his future by claiming in an interview with Le Soir that the playmaker rejected a chance to extend his Stamford Bridge deal beyond 2020 in order to encourage interest from Real Madrid.
Emulating the exploits of Madrid’s five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo and his Barcelona counterpart Messi is something a player of Hazard’s considerable talents can plausibly aspire towards more than most, but Conte sees room for improvement for a forward with eight goals to his name across 25 appearances in all competitions this season.
“He could score more,” Conte told reporters ahead of Saturday’s match against Stoke City. “If you see the stats, you understand that he can score more goals.
“When you are a striker, or a number 10, your speciality must be to score. I think in this aspect he has a lot of space for improvement.
“But don’t forget, he’s younger than these two players you named [Messi and Ronaldo].
“My task, and the task for every coach, is to try and improve your players because I think this is the only way to try to win something.
“Every year, every season, it’s very important to work with them and try and improve the levels of these players.
“If you do that, your team becomes stronger and you can have the ambition to fight for titles.”
This is an ambition seemingly shared by Hazard and one Conte remains convinced he can continue to satisfy in west London.
“If you are in a great club and you trust in the club and the ambition of the club, I think it’s right to stay,” he said, before directly addressing the furore caused by Thierry Hazard.
“I must be honest, I didn’t read the comments from his father. But the father spoke in the newspaper? Okay. I think, in the world, everyone has to respect the opinion of everyone else.
“In this case, I have to respect the opinion. But I think we are talking about a really good guy [Eden Hazard], and it’s normal – I repeat – if you think that you stay in a great club with great ambition, it’s right to stay. Otherwise, everyone has to give a different opinion.”
Asked whether Hazard trusted in Chelsea’s ambition, Conte, who has also seen the future of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois become the subject of mounting speculation, replied: “Now I think this is not the right moment [to discuss this] and also I think this question is not for me but for the club.
“These are private conversations that the player, the agent of the player must have with the club.”