Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink said Friday that Eden Hazard was happy to stay at Stamford Bridge but has told him he must improve following his disappointing season so far.
The Belgian playmaker has not come close to the high standards he set last term, amid speculation he is being courted by Paris Saint-Germain.
And his comments in an interview with Le Parisien just before Chelsea’s 2-1 Champions League defeat by PSG on Tuesday — “it would be difficult to say no to PSG” – did little to help his cause with the west London club’s supporters.
Yet Hiddink has spoken to Hazard on several occasions in a bid to help him rediscover the form that made him the 2015 PFA (England’s Professional Footballers’ Association) Player of the Year.
“Eden was in a difficult situation but has to step up,” said Hiddink during a news conference at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, south-west of London, on Friday.
“I don’t like broad talks but we have small conversations about how to step up to the next level.
“I hope he will step up as soon as possible. I remember once he had a sprint on the right side and we thought ‘that’s the old Hazard’ and hopefully he can show that more frequently. It is now up to him to step up.”
The Dutchman added: “I let them rest for one or two days after Tuesday but before that I had a short conversation with Hazard about the situation but he is very keen to extend his contract here and his family are happy.
“He has not said ‘I want to go’ but he has to step up as well. We will encourage him and talk to him about performance but then it is up to him. The whole world is focusing on him.”
– ‘Ultimate target’ –
Hiddink has restored Chelsea’s confidence and belief since taking charge last year and is now targeting progress in the FA Cup to rescue a poor campaign.
The Blues will host Manchester City on Sunday with Hiddink still unbeaten in the FA Cup after winning that competition in 2009 during his first spell as Chelsea’s caretaker boss.
“I came in December and we are now climbing the table, the second target was to get into the FA Cup Final,” he said. “It’s always a bonus if you get a cup.
“I won’t make many changes, hardly. We take this very seriously and we have a serious approach to the FA Cup.”
Chelsea, last season’s Premier League champions, are a huge 20 points behind leaders Leicester City and 14 points adrift of fourth-placed City, with Hiddink brought back until the end of the season after the Blues sacked Jose Mourinho.
“I think it is difficult to get fourth position (in the Premier League),” said Hiddink. “So regardless of what it brings it is nice to go for the ultimate target, which is the FA Cup.
“The 2009 win is something for the past but was an achievement for the club — including me. The prestige of winning the FA Cup is in England and worldwide.
“If City play a younger side they will go to 120 percent effort so it does not always work in your favour.
“If you see Man City play then they have the players who like to play the short game which is very threatening. I love to see them play when they are in full possession of the ball.”
Chelsea captain John Terry remains sidelined with a hamstring injury but Hiddink said the team could cope with his absence.
“Of course it’s a disappointment as he is leader of this club and this team. But I won’t mourn his loss.”