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Eden's no De Bruyne: Why Conte & Chelsea must look beyond Hazard

COMMENT: So, a question Blues fans: was Jose Mourinho really that bad second time around? Or, with this lot, was that title triumph the stuff of genius?

And a second one for you: today, from a Belgian double, who'd you take? Eden Hazard or Kevin de Bruyne?

It was a massacre on Saturday. Arsenal were good. Very, very good. But Chelsea were woeful. Not the manager. Not the away support. It was those on the pitch.

As Antonio Conte is quickly learning, Mourinho wasn't the problem last season. They talk a good game at Chelsea. Indeed, a great game. As the manager says, they look good "on paper". But the culture inside the locker room is deteriorating. It has been for over 12 months. Ever since they broke up after raising the Premier League crown at Stamford Bridge. Fitness schedules were blanked. Diets ignored. Many senior players returned for last year's preseason overweight and under-motivated. Mourinho recognised the problems immediately, he needed fresh blood to shake things up. But his warnings fell on deaf ears - and he was out of a job before Christmas.

Conte needs to recognise its 'me or them'.

Guus Hiddink succeeded Mourinho and - for the first few weeks - had appeared to right the ship. The noises about a calmer approach. Less distractions. Y'know, the sort of thing we've heard from the players this season. They were all being made. Even the prospect of a top four challenge was raised. The players just needed a different style of manager, we were told. A players' coach. Someone who truly understood them.

But by the end of the season, there were no Cups won. A mid-table finish was just about managed. And Hiddink, after being so bullish in those first few days, actually claimed he'd fulfilled his brief by avoiding relegation.

Now the baton is in Conte's hand. It's his problem to have. And he's already being let down by those inside the locker room. It really is 'me or them'.

How can you suggest otherwise when Branislav Ivanovic, after Saturday's mauling, admitted the players had ignored everything that Conte had sent them out to do?

"We didn't believe in what we were doing at the beginning and we were punished.

"As a team we didn't answer anything the manager asked of us, we have to be honest with ourselves and put more attention on the small details. We have to be more focused and concentrated on the game."

So where to start? It has to be at the top. A decision must be made about Eden Hazard. This isn't the "flag bearer", as they like to say in Italy, that Chelsea need. He was 18 months ago. But we're now realising what we saw from the Belgian was just a one off. This is it for Eden. He's satisfied with being a good player, capable of greatness when the mood takes him. But he's no leader. And he's no De Bruyne.

The Manchester City flyer has been in Hazard's shadow all his life. Even when, not yet in high school, they were highlighted by local Belgian media as juniors, it was always Hazard first, then De Bruyne. But no longer. City have a world-beater on their hands. Not just in ability, but also attitude. He's not going to settle. He's determined to improve. A player to lift the profile of Manchester City around the world. To fly the flag. De Bruyne is fast becoming everything Hazard could be, but chooses not to.

And this is why Conte can't rely on his No10. A fine player. But not someone to build your team around. And not someone to reconstruct a winning culture inside the dressing room.

Hazard is the main man at Chelsea. The biggest name. Both for the fans outside the club and those working with him inside Cobham. And that's the problem. Chelsea need to look beyond the Belgian. He can no longer be the focus for the club. He just doesn't want it.

And the big question is, long term, will Conte want him? It's difficult to see the two, as things stand today, working together over an extended period. Conte doesn't do project players. He doesn't indulge mavericks. What you see is what you get from the manager. Passion, energy and absolute desire. And this is what he demands from his players. You can see him being successful with De Bruyne. But Hazard? The 2016 version...?

If it comes to the crunch and Conte does realise its 'me or them', he has to hope Piet de Visser, the brilliant Dutch talent spotter, still has the ear of Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich.

Speaking about Hazard's problems last year with Mourinho, De Visser laid it all bare:

"Eden is a player who has moments of genius. Mourinho tried to turn him into an enhanced version of Messi or Ronaldo, but this is impossible. Hazard will never be like that.

"Eden is Eden. He is a player with brilliant individual actions, but someone who will never be a machine. He also wants to relax. You should never make him the player who must carry the team.

"Do not make him the captain. Just tell him to have fun on the field."

There wasn't much fun on the Emirates field Saturday. And indulging the attitude of players like Eden Hazard is now the problem. It's staring Conte in the face. He needs to decide: it's me or them.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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