A little over eight years ago a Pamplona-native hopped across the English Channel from Marseille to London. Swapping Olympique Marseille for Chelsea represented a huge step for the softly spoken Cesar Azpilicueta. In some way, the modest £8m spent on him proved emblematic of a man who would become a mainstay of many a Blues’ side.
The hardest thing to understand about Cesar Azpilicueta, apart from how to pronounce his name, is quite how he managed to fit into the newly crowned European champions when he joined in August 2012. Characteristically a right back, he had the powerhouse Serbian Branislav Ivanovic in his way. Nevertheless, he forced his way into the side and spent the majority of his first season as the starting right back.
The end of his first official season with the side also brought the reward of his first piece of silverware for Chelsea, the Europa League, as his side were crowned champions in 2012/13. Used to being the undisputed starting right back at both Osasuna and Marseille, the player, who became affectionately known as ‘Dave’ by fans, wasn’t accustomed to winning at such an elite level. But, in the years that followed, this was to become a familiar feeling for the new Blue.
Making his Mark
With a change in management to Jose Mourinho in season 2013/14, Azpilicueta found options limited at right back. The Portuguese manager preferred the more physically imposing Ivanovic which forced Azpilicueta out of the side.
However, this dark cloud was to prove to have the most silver of linings for ‘Dave’ as it allowed him to unlock an ability he never knew he had: versatility. A versatility that allowed him to slot into left back. A right footed left-back? Cesar Lahm, anyone?
As tough as it was for Chelsea fans to bid goodbye to Ashley Cole to Roma in 2014, the blow was softened by the knowledge that Azpilicueta was there. Yes, Filipe Luis was signed as a replacement, but Azpilicueta was relentless in his work, his desire, and his commitment to earn his place in the side. Unfortunately for Luis, ‘Dave’ just wouldn’t budge. Making the left back position his own, he formed part of a League and League Cup double winning side in 2014/15.
A torrid 2015/16 would follow for Chelsea as the team endured one of their worst ever seasons, but season 2016/17 would prove another watershed moment for Azpilicueta. A new manager, a new formation, but the same adaptable player. From right back, to left back and now to the right side of three centre backs, Azpilicueta would play every game in this new role as Chelsea won the Premier League for a fifth time. As dependable as ever, his one-on-one defending and consistency saw him become an indispensable member of the side.
For the following two seasons, Chelsea’s number 28 would be restored by managers Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard to his customary right back role. Such was his quality and dependability that, in fact, in the five seasons from 15/16 to 19/20, Azpilicueta missed just four Premier League matches.
Made team captain in season 18/19 and later club captain in 19/20 after Gary Cahill’s departure, this is a player who has lived and breathed Chelsea for the better part of nine years of his life. Yet, one question remains.
Is Cesar Azpilicueta a Chelsea Legend?
Ask any football fan what constitutes a legendary footballer, and you are likely to get as many different answers as people you have asked.
Do statistics make a legend? Cesar Azpilicueta, at the time of writing, has made 397 Chelsea appearances, won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and two Europa League trophies. And he has been a key member in every one of those victories.
But many will argue that legendary status leaves you with something that little bit extra. It’s not in a number, it’s not in a trophy but it is in a feeling.
Our Dave may not be the flashiest player, the one to do the flicks and tricks or score a last-minute winner to send the crowd into a frenzy. He certainly won’t bend a free kick into the top corner.
But what he will do is be there.
In every game Cesar Azpilicueta has delivered a dependable performance. He has led by example in all 397 appearances and become such a vital fabric of Chelsea Football Club that it would be strange to look at a team sheet without him.
While those in the terraces notice the feints, the dribbles and the curlers of an Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta is the player who provides the platform for such players to express themselves.
There will never be a moment he stops trying, stops giving everything or puts down his blue flag.
He, like the millions of Chelsea fans around the globe, bleeds Blue and has served his club wholeheartedly every day for nine years.
Right now we may call him Dave, but when he decides his time is up we will stop calling him that.
And we will call him a Chelsea legend.
Written and edited by Dan Hill (@idanknow05)