Jose Mourinho once claimed, “A team with 11 Azpilicueta can probably win Champions League. Football is not just about pure talent but also of character and personality.” César Azpilicueta exemplifies those traits. He joined Chelsea from Marseille for a mere £7 million, a bargain of the highest order. He was brought in to replace Jose Bosingwa, but since then he has rightfully challenged the legacy of Branislav Ivanovic.
Instead of talking about stats like crossing, dribbled past, and interceptions – for a player like César we need to talk about the versatility and attitude he brings to the club.
César Azpilicueta a.k.a. Dave – an old school full back is at his best when he plays as Right Back. Having joined Champions League winning squad in 2012, he played a comparatively smaller role (at his standards) in the first season at Chelsea – with 27 PL appearances clocked just below 2200’ of game time, his lowest at Chelsea. A mind-boggling stat. Chelsea won Europa League with interim manager Rafael Benitez in the 2012/13 season and welcomed back Jose Mourinho for a second stint the next season. With Ashley Cole falling out of favor, César was deputed as Left Back by Jose Mourinho first time in the 2013-14 season.
In the PL title-winning 2014-15 season, with Filipe Luis bought from Atletico Madrid as replacement of Ashley Cole, it was not expected that César would be the first choice Left Back. For the fans who’ve watched Chelsea that season, it was a season with performances that one can never expect from a defender not playing at his natural position. César was flawless and consistently so. His persona and performances as Left Back earned him praise from one and all, stamping his dominance at the club
With Antonio Conte taking over charge from Hiddink after dreadful 2015-16 season, it was never expected that Chelsea would go on to win the title from the 10th spot. No Chelsea fan can forget that moment when Marcos Alonso was subbed in signaling 3 at-the-back in the game vs Arsenal, losing 3-0. This was the game wherein Conte decided to switch the formation to 3-4-3. César Azpilicueta played all the games in PL and 29 of those as Center Back over aging John Terry. Even though ‘not tall enough for Center Back’, Azpi brought in experience and raw defending skills in the 2016/17 PL winning season – another feather in the cap. Azpi also played a few games as RWB – with fair success. He’s poor in tracking back and at times lacks the pace to get in the correct positions, it can be fairly said that its not his best position.
Having talked about the versatility that he brings to the club and manager, Dave had big shoes to fill when he took that captains’ armband from likes of JT & Cahill. Even though Azpi led the team most of the time under Sarri with out of favor Cahill on the bench, he was officially announced club captain for season 2019-20 by Frank Lampard. Symbolic in its own sense, as he probably was first non-English captain since likes of JT, Lamps, Wise, Cahill to lead Chelsea FC.
Even though Chelsea has struggled to replace the LB position since Ashley Cole left, the same cannot be said about RB. With Reece James rising through academy ranks and having played a couple of senior seasons – it seems that we’ve got a good player on our hands. And more importantly, under wings of an excellent mentor. The way Azpi conducts himself on the field and off the field – he’s a perfect club ambassador. On the field, he has been consistent (with his very few flaws) performer with reliable performances. Literally a machine when it comes to game time he has played over the last few years. It was heartbreaking to see him get injured in 2020 FA Cup Final against Arsenal, more so after him having conceded a penalty earlier. He was gutted to be on the bench watching his team go down, as he wanted to contribute to the young squad playing their first major finals.
Chelsea is under major transition and Azpi is the most experienced and senior squad member at the club. Next season, for which most Chelsea fans are excited beyond bounds, with youngsters like Reece, Mount, Tammy, Tomori getting more involved; and exciting prospects like Pulisic, Werner, Ziyech (and hopefully Kai Havertz) taking center stage – the role of César Azpilicueta would be vital. He would have to support these youngsters off the field to make sure they settle down at the club fast so that they can deliver on the field.
I would not write off César yet. He still has a good couple of years in him and can hand over his legacy to Reece, who shall be ready by then. With his trademark tucked-in shirt, Chelsea needs its 13th longest-serving player to deliver performances, provide versatility, mentor youngsters, and hopefully lift a couple of more trophies in the coming years.
I would end this article with a quote – “There is no substitute to Experience” –for all my fellow Chelsea fans who feel 30+ is ‘done and dusted’ age. Some players age like wine, hope Dave is one of those.