Eden Hazard has almost certainly played his last Premier League match for Chelsea Football Club.
That much was abundantly clear from his post-match media interviews at Leicester City on Sunday, where he revealed that he had informed the club a fortnight ago of his hopes to leave London for Madrid this summer.
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Now there will be a period of brinksmanship, as representatives of the three parties – Chelsea, Real and Hazard – work their way towards an agreement that will see the Belgian head for pastures new.
How long that takes, how public it is – and, as a result of those two factors, how messy a back page spectacle it becomes – is yet to be decided. But you can stick a series of dates in your diary now.
  • May 16: Premier League transfer window opens
  • June 9: International window opens
  • August 8: Premier League window shuts
Hazard, who will be in the States following Chelsea's season-ending friendly against New England Revolution, will not be up for grabs on this first date. And anyway, while there is every chance of a cheeky (and bound to fail) bid from Premier League rivals, Zinedine Zidane's Real will not formally enter the game until the international window opens.
That means four weeks of speculation, at the very least, including those post-match interviews after the Europa League final in Baku, where Hazard will have collected his final medal for Chelsea – with the Belgian likely to be among the biggest deciding factors in whether it is engraved with winners or losers.
The transfer window proper then runs for nine weeks until August 8 – two days before the new Premier League season is due to kick off.
Whether or not Hazard has left Chelsea by then, the club will have become reconciled to a future without him. That's because, in the likely scenario of the club's FIFA transfer ban being paused by the Court of Arbitration for Sport during the appeal process this summer, that is the date after which no new players will be allowed into Stamford Bridge.
But the rules are different where Hazard is headed, with the Spanish transfer window staying open until September 2.
Chelsea's position, whether they like it or not, is this: they have an asset in Hazard that is now the focus of a distressed sale.
He doesn't want to be at the club. And, with just a year left on his contract, his value will depreciate for each and every day he remains a Chelsea player after July 1. The battle to keep him is over and this is now about saving face, and extracting value from that asset.
Chelsea could, theoretically, cling on to him for the next year, but with a player whose head is elsewhere, it is debatable how beneficial that would be to the team.
The only other option would be to give him the treatment previously doled out to Alex and Florent Malouda, and let him rot in the reserves, while his sale value diminishes to nothing. That would be an act of such huge self-harm, it can surely be ruled out as a course of action from the start.
Essentially, Real hold most of the cards in this game. Chelsea will have a target value for their asset, widely reported to be in the region of £100m. The Spaniards will want to pay less.

Eden Hazard of Chelsea is presented with the Playmaker winner trophy after the Premier League match between Leicester City and Chelsea FC at The King Power Stadium on May 12, 2019 in Leicester, United Kingdom.

Image credit: Getty Images

From here on in, it is a case of who blinks first – £100m is clearly an over-valuation for a player who could leave on a free this time next year.
So completing the deal will largely depend on how much Chelsea are willing to yield to Real's downward pressure, and how much alternate added value Real can offer Chelsea in place of hard cash.
Rule nothing out here. Players coming the other way (Mateo Kovacic's loan signing last summer was always a precursor to this deal), some sort of longer-term 'understanding' (of the type Tottenham arranged with Real when they sold Luka Modric), or something else, possibly merchandise related, that is yet to be considered.
But be clear on one thing: this is the summer in which Hazard becomes a Real Madrid player. And there is nothing Chelsea can do, at this stage, to stop that.
Dan Levene - @danlevene
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