Eden Hazard has laid down the marker for his contract extension. But in doing so, he has effectively removed himself from the Chelsea captaincy.
Eden Hazard currently has less than two years remaining on his contract. A contract extension is on the table and he is set to stay for this season, but the fear is that Chelsea has one more summer to fight off Real Madrid.
Somewhat thankfully, Hazard has at least set the bar for his extension. He has not committed fully, but Chelsea must at least make the Champions League for him to consider it. That is both a reasonable marker and something for Chelsea to work towards if they want to keep Hazard.
But in setting that bar, Hazard has also effectively removed himself from any type of captaincy. The armband, thus far, has been linked to Hazard extending. Again, that is a fair and reasonable ask from the club to the Belgian. But in predicating the extension with Champions League qualification, Hazard has removed that side of the equation.
Chelsea simply cannot wait that long to name a captain. Of course, Maurizio Sarri could always take the cop out approach and declare that Gary Cahill will remain the captain so long as he is a Chelsea player. On the pitch, it will likely remain Cesar Azpilicueta, but off the pitch it will remain Cahill. John Terry was in a similar situation during his last year at the club.
But if Sarri is looking to name a starter as captain, then it will have to be Azpilicueta now. Hazard has pushed his decision back nearly a full season and being captain at Chelsea means something. The armband can only go to a player who will remain captain for the long term. And long term is by no means a guarantee from Hazard at the moment.
Furthermore, it would be a bad look to give Hazard the armband and then fail to qualify for the Champions League. Chelsea obviously has the tools to do so and really only needs to be better than three of the top six, but is never a guarantee. In addition, Chelsea could still qualify for the Champions League and see Hazard depart. That would be an even worse look if he were captain.
Though Hazard’s marker is reasonable, naming him captain is no longer logical in light of that very marker. It would be, at best, a superficial attempt to win him over. Deserved? Debatably if he is considering departing soon.
At best, Hazard should be made vice captain and Azpilicueta captain. The Spaniard has been nothing short of the pinnacle of professionalism on and off the pitch since arriving at Chelsea. As the current vice captain, Azpilicueta deserves the promotion.
The compromise (assuming Sarri does not cop out and keeps Cahill captain) is to make Hazard the vice captain. He will still have a role to play officially, but it will not be as embarrassing if he decides to leave. The captaincy was never going to win Hazard over anyways. That would be like giving a carrot to a man asking for a steak.
Most importantly, Chelsea knows what they need to do to keep Hazard. Champions League or bust. The captaincy was never the real issue and will not solve anything. Only proving that Chelsea can still compete solves the issue of keeping Hazard.