Chelsea seeking to tie down two of their stars before World Cup Stardom knocks
Antonio Conte wants his two famous Belgians to sign new Chelsea contracts before they become global megastars at the World Cup.
Eden Hazard scored twice in his sensational man-of-the-match performance as Newcastle were beaten 3-1 on Saturday. Keeper Thibaut Courtois will also be part of a formidable Belgium side that will take on England in Group G, and is looking to go all the way in Russia next summer.
Both are vital for club and country, but have not yet put pen to paper on new deals that would end Spanish giants Real Madrid's long-term interest in them.
Talks continue with Hazard over a £300,000-a-week extension to a contract that expires in 2020. And former Atletico Madrid loanee Courtois will enter the final 18 months of his deal in January – the same as boss Conte.
The two players are relaxed about their situations — they will either get paid loads at Stamford Bridge or leave and make even more elsewhere — but with Conte seeking further investment to challenge the Manchester giants, he said: “You are talking about two great players.
“Thibaut is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Maybe the best now. And also Eden. But I think the club knows very well the importance of these two players and I think they are very happy to play for this club.
It is normal during the season to have the contact between the player – or the agent of the player – and the club. I hope that, at the end, Thibaut will sign his contract.
“And Eden to sign as well before the World Cup? For sure, I will be very happy when they can have this deal. But it is the responsibility of the club to try to do this. I can give my opinion about these two players. They are very young players and it will be great to keep them with us.”
The World Cup offers the ultimate stage for showcasing talent. “It is the best tournament in the world,” said the former Italy boss. “In this tournament, you can show your abilities and your skills, and you can show that you are a top player.”
But he insisted both Hazard, 26, and Courtois, 25, still have “a lot of space for improvement”.
Conte explained: “I don’t think Eden is at the peak of his career.
“You are at the top when you win the Ballon d’Or the first time, when you win the Champions League or World Cup. At that moment, you are at the top of the world, so you are a great player.”
Hazard was still too much for Newcastle. After sloppy defending saw Dwight Gayle give Toon the 12th-minute lead, the Belgian equalised with a clever volley.
And after Alvaro Morata scored his ninth league goal on 33 minutes, Hazard then celebrated Antonin Panenka’s 69th birthday with a dinked “Panenka penalty” after the break.
“He is enjoying his football," said team-mate Victor Moses. “That’s the most important thing, and he is doing loads of amazing things.”
Toon boss Rafa Benitez said: “He was already a very good player, but now he’s more mature and getting better.”
Chelsea need a home victory over Atletico Madrid on Tuesday to guarantee top spot in their Champions League group.
He added: “For our ambition and our confidence, we would like to win the group.”
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