Antonio Rudiger rejected the chance to become the highest-paid defender in Chelsea’s history, the PA news agency understands.
The Germany defender is understood to have turned down a major contract offer from Chelsea, that the Blues had tabled before falling under Government restrictions.
Chelsea have continued to hold out hope that the Stamford Bridge club’s sale could turn the tide in their bid to retain Rudiger’s services.
But the continued strong interest from Real Madrid could now see the 29-year-old leave the west London club when his contract expires this summer.
Rudiger had for some time vowed to leave the decision on his future until the end of the campaign, but interest from other clubs has remained consistent.
He has been understood to want to continue working with Thomas Tuchel, having hit new heights under the Blues’ German boss.
But Madrid could now hold the edge in the race to land one of Europe’s top defenders.
Chelsea’s recruitment and retention has been halted by the strict operating terms after Roman Abramovich’s UK Government sanctions.
The sale of the Stamford Bridge club should be completed in May though, which will allow the west Londoners to return to standard transfer business.
The consortiums bidding to buy the Blues are all understood to want to keep chairman Bruce Buck and director Marina Granovskaia in place after a purchase.
And that potential stability could yet offer a route map for the Blues to retain Rudiger’s services.
Former Roma centre-back Rudiger’s continued determination to keep his options open in recent weeks is understood to have been respected in the Chelsea hierarchy.
Todd Boehly, Sir Martin Broughton and Steve Pagliuca are the consortium heads for the remaining bids to buy Chelsea, with New York merchant bank the Raine Group poised to select a preferred bidder in the coming days.
Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale on March 2, amid Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian-Israeli billionaire was then sanctioned by the UK Government on March 10, with Downing Street claiming to have proven his links to Vladimir Putin.
Chelsea remain on course for a third-placed finish in the Premier League, but will be itching to arrest a run of three straight home losses in all competitions in Sunday’s clash with West Ham.
David Moyes’ Hammers defeated Chelsea 3-2 at the London Stadium on December 4, so will pitch up in west London with designs on a Premier League double.
Blues boss Tuchel is determined to push his side back into form on home soil, but has admitted feeling the pace personally after a relentless few weeks.
“I reflect on what signals we give; we only had two days in between coming from Wembley and an emotional game and win to the next match,” said Tuchel.
“I felt very tired after Real Madrid and the turnaround, Southampton away, Real Madrid away, and another away game at Wembley. I felt it, I was tired.
“So should I have pushed harder? What signals did I give? We did what we were convinced about, but we felt it.
“With an evening game I think there is still enough time to prepare and get in the right mood.
“For myself, I have developed a routine. I don’t feel the same level of excitement for every match. For me, this is impossible, and you should not expect it.
“There is nothing wrong to feel sometimes a lower level of excitement, a lower level of tension. This is normal.
“This doesn’t mean we do it less seriously or prepare with less quality. I don’t want to get confused in this kind of thinking.
“We can trust ourselves and prepare in the best way possible.
“We are asking what is it because it came out of the blue, it was a weird result given how the game went. It was different from the Real Madrid and Brentford performances.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.