Cult Heroes: Cesar Azpilicueta

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Eden Hazard of Chelsea and team mate Cesar Azpilicueta celebrate their side's victory after the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Fulham FC at Stamford Bridge on December 2, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 02: Eden Hazard of Chelsea and team mate Cesar Azpilicueta celebrate their side’s victory after the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Fulham FC at Stamford Bridge on December 2, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Cesar Azpilicueta fits this quote, “The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other.”
– Mario Puzo. Unlike skill, flair or technical ability, the virtue of devotion exists alone. An individual can not train or improve it, it simply is. When tested by matters of finance or passion often loyalty shrinks, diminished by the individual’s wants and desires, in football, this is no different. Coinciding with the commercialisation of the game, loyalty is a quality difficult to find. As players seem to have the upper hand in salary negotiations and transfer deals, the allure of financial gain undoubtedly tempt many, but not Cesar Azpilicueta. A man that’s appreciation and allegiance to Chelsea Football Club is met without resistance. Dave, as he’s known by many, is somewhat of a rarity in the age of ‘Instagram footballer’, he’s proper Chels.

The Early Years 

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 16: Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on January 16, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 16: Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on January 16, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

Dave’s early years at Chelsea, like many before, were touch and go. He had both the fortune and misfortune of being both Branislav Ivanovic’s and Ashley Cole’s understudy, learning a lot, but not gaining the desired pitch time. And again at no fault of his own, Azpi’s versatility, although helpful, pushed him out towards left-back to ease Cole’s slight decline. His time under Rafa Benitez was not monumental but certainly elevated his status among Chelsea supporters and when accompanied by winning the Europa league proved more than sufficient. Dave’s first two seasons saw him apply his trade in both full-back positions Due to the young Spaniards ‘jack of all trade’ like quality, he found it easy to fill both veterans shoes when called upon by Benitez. The tough respectful stoic, Azpilicueta slotted in comfortably to Stamford Bridge.   

Jose’s Return 

The old captain, and the current one. (PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
The old captain, and the current one. (PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Azpilicueta’s backout seasons coincided with the return of Jose Mourinho. The 2013-14 season was described by the Portuguese manager as a “race between two horses and a little horse that needs milk and needs to learn how to jump.” Mourinho saw this Chelsea team as an infante, not quite ready to conquer the league. In a similar position to his parent club, Dave, although accustomed to the league, still needed help over the hurdles. Jose deployed Azpi as his bit part left-back that season, picking up 29 Premier League appearances. Never one to complain Azpi took to the role with a degree of determination and executed his order adequately. Comfortable and competent at left-back, but not exactly thriving, it would take another season before we’d see Dave in his favoured position. The following season saw Jose’s little horse find its legs and triumphantly gallop to the finish line. Dave’s dedication and astute awareness made him an invaluable cog in the Mourinho machine. The 2014-15 season cemented Azpilicueta as one of the top defenders in the league, disciplined in a tackle and almost impossible to get past in a 1v1, Cesar was away. It seems almost cliche now, but he was a 7/10 in every game that season, Mr dependable. That second season of Mourinho magic smiled favourably on Azpilcueta and he received high praise from his manager and pundits alike. Gary Nevile celebrated him for his “ technical defending, not making a mistake and not being in the wrong position, not getting caught out”. This is very accurate of Cesar and still rings true today, we’ve seen him deal with top opposition consistently for years with very little trouble.  

Antonio’s Arrival 

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 15: Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea and Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea in converstation during the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on August 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 15: Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea and Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea in converstation during the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on August 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

The 2014-15 season may have been the birth of Casar, but the arrival of Antonio Conte was his coming of age. Deployed in that now-famous 3 back of Luiz and Cahil, Dave took to Antonio’s style swingingly. The 3 back formation gave Dave more time on the ball and the luxury of whipping in the occasional cross for Costa to latch onto didn’t do him any harm. That season, Cesar was unplayable, he tacked hard without remorse and controlled the play from deep. It was clear that his early days at Chelsea were invaluable to him, mastering both fullback positions and now the centre back role, Azpi was becoming the complete defender. He lifted the league title as vice-captain to Gary Cahill, proving to be both capable and possessing leadership qualities beyond his years. Conte’s second season although not as magical as the first, still resulted in an FA cup victory for Cesar and his surprising partnership with fellow countryman Alvaro Morrata also proved fruitful. 

The Later Years 

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea poses with the Premier League Trophy after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 21: Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea poses with the Premier League Trophy after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Last season didn’t exactly bath Cesar in glory. Sarri’s possession-based attacking football didn’t favour his defence qualities or any defenders for that matter. Yet still, he was able to captain his side to a Europa League final and dispose of Arsenal with relative ease. This season, however, Chelsea have looked towards Cesar for guidance and must need solidity at times. He seems to be back to his best at times and is a credit to Lampard and his newly embedded philosophy. Azpi has played in both full-back positions and deserves credit for how well he’s performed in both. Although now in the twilight of his career, Azpilicueta can hold his head high knowing he’s been a tremendous servant to Chelsea, proving there’s still a place for the tucked-in shirt on a football pitch. Cesar Azpipicueta, forever the gentleman, endlessly loyal, we thank you.       

Written By: Charlie Castillo

Edited by: Jai Mcintosh


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