by Daisy Cutter

So its official, Eden Hazard is this summer’s Wesley Sneijder. The 21 year old magician from Lille has dominated the back pages as the marquee signing of the close season with both Manchester clubs and Chelsea all scrabbling to secure his £32M capture.

But whilst Sneijder – a Champion’s League winner and World Cup finalist with proven pedigree at the very highest level – kept some degree of decorum last year amidst the flurry of rumours and counter-rumours that persisted until he eventually decided to remain in Milan Hazard has taken it upon himself to orchestrate the madness.

He has not found himself in the eye of a transfer storm but rather wilfully placed himself there, offering teasing clues as to his preferred destination with all the glee of an attention-seeking brat.

First there was his compliance to take part in a Nike advert (see bottom of page) poking fun at the fervent speculation. Then at the start of this month – just six days after being a guest of the home side at the Manchester derby – he declared he will ‘definitely be wearing blue’ in August.

By this stage City were firmly in the driving seat, even reputedly giving the player a tour of Cheshire to show him potential homes.

This week however United were back in contention with numerous ‘in-the-knows’ ranging from Paddy Crerand on MUTV to, strangely, Colin Murray on 5Live all proclaiming that Old Trafford will be the arena in which the youngster will parade his fantastic talents next term.

Hold the presses though because just hours after scoring a sensational hat-trick in his Lille swansong and having witnessed Chelsea win the Champion’s League the artful schemer had this to say to Canal+ – “It is possible that Chelsea’s arrival at the negotiation table will delay things, as nothing is done until I sign a contract. Chelsea can make you hesitate, next year they will play in the Champions League. So we will see.”

Ooo the little tease.

So what happened between City all-but-securing his services and Hazard showing a bit of ankle and coyly waving in the direction of the Bridge?

Well firstly there was the small matter of his agent insisting upon a five million cut on the deal, an exorbitant figure even considering today’s crazy times. Then there’s the £200,000 a week demands that would immediately place him below only Tevez and Yaya Toure in City’s pay structure and miles ahead of such established, integral figures as Silva and Kompany. At United meanwhile it would mean he banks slightly less than Rooney, a player the club have built their team around who had to resort to threatening to leave in order to recieve such fortunes.

United’s response – as too Chelsea’s – is unknown at present but it is fair to assume they mirrored City’s stance which was to table a more realistic figure in the region of £100,000 a week then stand firm. That is if they’ve even reached that point of negotiation yet which in Chelsea’s case is unlikely and with United remains unclear.

A deal involving one of the most scintillating prospects on the planet and three clubs whose subsequent quest for silverware would be significantly improved by his purchase will always include a fair degree of bluff and tactical brinkmanship and this appears to be the case with Hazard publicly bringing Chelsea into the equation. Unfortunately for the player and his agent their transparent attempt to force City’s hand was undermined this week by the news that the London club have had a £30M bid for Brazilian starlet Lucas Moura rejected with the Sao Paulo president Juvenal Juvencio admitting that he expects them to return and be successful. No matter what Chelsea’s spending plans are this summer it is entirely implausible that they will splurge close to sixty million on two players with identical qualities, especially when they also possess Mata and require strengthening in other areas.

For me Chelsea are not in the reckoning, and presumably never were, which boils it down to a two-way fight between the blue and red of Manchester. As stated at the beginning, it is Sneijder all over again.

Hazard has declared that he wants all of this done and dusted before June 2nd when Belgium take on England at Wembley. He is concerned that, should his future still be undecided, his performance will be a high-profile audition on the night and prove to be a distraction for both him and his team-mates.

While he is unlikely to get his wish it is worth noting that from now until June 2nd Eden is ensconced in the international set-up, in daily contact with City captain Vincent Kompany, a man who he is said to look up to and admire.

Last summer at the Copa America Pablo Zabaleta’s cajoling and encouragement was a significant factor in Sergio Aguero plumping for City. Could the same thing happen here?

Furthermore United’s interest – although genuine – remains perplexing. A club laden with debt and in dire need of overhauling an aging, mediocre midfield their decision to place every egg in the Belgian basket simply doesn’t make sense when you consider that they already possess three players of an inferior but similar ilk in Nani, Young and Valencia. What Hazard – a player of devastating ability – would add to United’s attacking threat and potency is not in doubt but surely their priorities lie elsewhere and persistent rumours of a swoop for Borussia Dortmund’s Japanese superstar Kagawa adds weight to this. With the exclusion of Spurs from next season’s Champion’s League there is also the availability of Modric to take into account, an addition that would provide some sorely needed creativity and probing to United’s centre but also a purchase that would take up the baulk of their summer budget.

With City the very opposite is true. Despite playing some fantastical football last year what was missing all-too-often was pace and width to their endeavours. As defences placed a carapace of numbers in central areas to nullify the tippy-tap approaches they needed him then and they need him now. Additionally should he join City the prospect of Hazard linking and jinking with Silva and Aguero is enough to justify the club distributing a free sheet of Kleenex on every seat.

Whatever the conclusion this one is set to run for quite some time – we haven’t even reached the part where Real Madrid supposedly enter the fray yet – and there are many developments still to play out before a club secures his signature and are immediately installed as title favourites as a consequence. Yes he’s that good.

Yesterday however there were two nuggets of interest that could go some way to finalising the protracted drama.

Hazard’s agent distanced himself from the widespread reports claiming he was demanding a huge fee, the first instance of blinking in the financial stare-off and the clearest sign yet that they’re prepared to back down after evidently pricing themselves out of the market.

Meanwhile, hidden away in the news sources where only twelve months ago such a statement would have garnered explosive headlines, Wesley Sneijder issued a fresh ‘come and get me’ plea to potential suitors.

Hazard to City and Sneijder to United? They don’t call it the ‘silly season’ for nothing you know.