Imagine being called one of Jose Mourinho’s untouchables, and being the player who usurped one of the best full-backs in modern times, Ashley Cole, in the Chelsea side – oh and being hailed as the best one-on-one defender in Europe by Gary Neville.
All that and more has happened to Cesar Azpilicueta during his meteoric rise since his move to Chelsea back in 2012, with the player arriving at the club for only £7 million, as cover at right back, and going on to become one of the best left backs in Europe – not to mention quadrupling his transfer value at the very least.
For Cesar Azpilicueta, the rise to the top was not without a struggle – when Jose Mourinho came back to Chelsea, many thought that the Rafa Benitez favourite would be relegated to the bench – if he had a future there at all, but the opposite turned out to be the case. Ashley Cole fell out of favour, suffered with injury problems and indiscretions off the field, and Azpilicueta has not looked back since.
He is now a fan favourite, and was even voted Chelsea Player’s Player of the Year back in 2013/2014, and had it not been for the form of Eden Hazard, could well have been an individual award winner again last season. Instead, he was a pivotal piece in the side that won the domestic double, never putting a foot out of line, rarely getting injured or suspended and seeing off the challenge for his spot in the team from Filipe Luis, who came to Chelsea on the back of a La Liga winning campaign with Atletico Madrid, and was undoubtedly one of the best defenders in the world.
That did not seem to matter to Azpilicueta, who is affectionately known as ‘Dave’ to the fans, given the struggle to pronounce his name, and the Spaniard kept his place in the side with gusto.
Filipe Luis has now been returned to sender, with Chelsea in the market for another left back this summer as cover for Azpi – but who ever they bring in will be aware that displacing the 26 year old Mourinho favourite is no easy task.
The player was called the ‘wind beneath Eden Hazard’s wings’, and that is actually one of the best ways to describe his importance to the Chelsea side.
Hazard has come on in leaps and bounds this season in terms of his defensive play, but he goes missing at times, and there is no denying the fact that having the Spaniard behind him allows for lapses in judgement and defensive play from the winger, while still being assured that Chelsea will not concede a goal.
In fact, on Friday Night Live, after signing a new, long term deal with Chelsea, Hazard claimed that he had signed a new deal with the Blues to ‘play with Azpilicueta’. It was a joke, but you can understand the thought behind it, not to mention the fact that the relationship between the duo is beneficial to the Chelsea side.
Mourinho lavishes praise on the player at any given opportunity and claimed:
Azpilicueta is the kind of player I like a lot. I think a team with 11 Azpilicuetas would probably win the competition (Champions League) because football is not just about pure talent.
It is precisely that which has seen the player installed as one of Mourinho’s favourites – look at someone like Frank Lampard. Talent alone is not enough in football. You can have all the talent in the world and still fail to break into a starting XI or flop as an individual.
It is a will to win, a work ethic, being the last to leave in training, the first to arrive in the morning, doing everything you can to help the team. That is what sees you become one of the best players in a side, and more than that, a player who is indispensable to a manger.
Azpi is that person, and given his age, not to mention ability, it is hard to see him being displaced in the Chelsea side any time soon, something rumoured target Baba Rahman might want to keep in mind.