Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea legend or only a great servant? Quite frankly, it depends on who you ask, as the Spanish international and Blues captain has arguments both ways.
The Case For ‘Legend’
Azpilicueta, Azpi or Dave even has won almost everything under the sun since joining Chelsea before the 2012/13 season. In eight years with the club, he has two Premier League titles, two Europa League titles, one FA Cup and one League Cup, adding to his medals from his time with Marseille in France.
Earning trophies is just one piece of the puzzle. Gaining the respect of your teammates and peers is another. From very early on, Azpilicueta did just that, winning Chelsea’s Player’s Player of the Year award in only his second season, the 2013/14 campaign, at the age of only 25.
Now as a seasoned veteran, he has also earned the respect of the different managers coming through the revolving door at Stamford Bridge. When John Terry left the club after the 2017 league title, Gary Cahill received the armband with Azpilicueta promoted to vice captain.
However, Cahill only remained a Chelsea regular for one more season. Come 2018/19, under new manager Maurizio Sarri, Cahill had the armband on paper, but he found himself on the substitutes’ bench more often than not. In his place as the captain on the field was Azpilicueta.
Now under manager Frank Lampard, with Cahill sold to Crystal Palace and Azpilicueta a more seasoned veteran, he has earned yet another promotion, this time to outright captain of the squad.
Yes, many times the armband goes to the squad’s best player – hard to make an argument Azpilicueta is Chelsea’s best. Or maybe the longest serving player – which he irrefutably is. But Azpilicueta earned the armband, in my opinion, for his commitment to the team and exemplary leadership.
Azpilicueta, who gradually moved from forward to midfielder to defender as he matriculated from youth player to full professional in his native Spain, is as much a natural right back as can be. Yet he hasn’t played a majority of his Chelsea career at right back.
In his eight years with the club, Azpilicueta spent the majority of three seasons at left back mainly under then-manager Jose Mourinho, from 2013 to 2016. Under Antonio Conte for two seasons, he played mostly as a right sided center back in a back three.
Only in three of his eight years with the Blues has Azpilicueta played his ‘natural’ position. No, he never complains, and instead puts the team before himself to contribute where, when and how he can.
That type of heart, dedication to the club and selflessness speak volumes of Azpilicueta as a player. Then add in his teammates and coaches’ recognition to further highlight his character as a person. Finally, throw in the minuscule £7 million fee to buy him, which is arguably the best piece of business in Chelsea and Premier League history. Add that together and you get a combination of what club legends are made of.
The Case For Club Servant
Azpilicueta has certainly won the hearts and minds of everyone within the Chelsea family, but he hasn’t so much outside of it. Maybe cruelly so, but maybe not.
Azpilicueta has never earned PFA Player Of The Year honors in the Premier League. More recently the youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool has been ahead of him, at either right back or left back. Before that, Kyle Walker at both Tottenham and Manchester City got into the team. Even Danny Rose at Spurs, Hector Bellerin at Arsenal and Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand, a former Blue, have beaten out Azpilicueta for the honour.
Moreover, Azpilicueta only has 25 caps with Spain, with 17 of those coming in friendlies. Two of his eight competitive international caps came at Spain’s horrendous 2014 World Cup showing where they bounced out of the group stage as defending champions, although Azplicueta was not the main reason for their poor showing. The other few have come in qualifiers for either the World Cup or Euros and the new Nations League.
In fairness, Azplicueta does have an incredible amount of talent in front of him with the national team, such as Juanfran and Dani Carvajal. However, it’s clear he’s surplus to requirements with La Roja. He hasn’t supplanted them for a reason. That reason is…dun dun dun….Azpilicueta is just an above average player.
According to WhoScored, Azplicueta’s average rating during a Premier League season has always been above 7.00. However, his highest is just 7.24. Alexander-Arnold, Walker and Bellerin have all had a similar run of consistency as Chelsea’s captains. They’ve all had seasons with a higher rating than Azplicueta as well.
Plus, if Azpilicueta were a club legend, why has he moved positions so frequently? Why did he move to left back rather than Branislav Ivanovic in previous seasons? Why has 20-year-old Reece James pushed him out of right back and over to left back this year? Simply, and maybe harshly, Azplicueta is nothing more than a solid, above average player.
When it comes to his Chelsea tenure, Azpilicueta has been a model of consistency and captained the club during possibly the worst stretch of the Abramovich era. The Blues have missed the Champions League twice with Azpilicueta at the club, the only times during the Russian’s ownership. And the Blues have only made it past the round of 16 once during Azpilicueta’s time.
With the Russian bankrolling the club, Chelsea failed to win a trophy during three separate seasons. The first was also his first year at the helm. The other two have come with Azpilicueta a member of the squad.
Now, none of this is meant as an indictment on the Spaniard and clearly in a team sport, one man cannot bear the sole responsibility of a team’s results. It’s clear as day, though, that Azpilicueta has been a solid rock for the club during a time where they regressed from world super club to below the upper echelons.
To be a true club legend, you can’t just have earned the adoration of your own. You must be good enough to also command the respect and admiration of your most hated rivals and those who have no skin in the game.
Vincent Kompany is a Manchester City legend. Even non-Man City fans will attest to that. Thierry Henry is an Arsenal legend. Even Chelsea fans must admit that.
But will non-Chelsea fans call Azpilicueta a legend? Likely not. While consistent, he never became a dominating force in the Premier League nor his own national team.
Eden Hazard took control of matches and single handedly won games for the Blues. Has Azpilicueta made incredible tackles, clearances off the line, and saved points at certain moments? Absolutely. But has he singled handedly won or saved games on the defensive side of things? No. And certainly not game after game.
Azpilicueta has no doubt become a model for kids and Chelsea youth players to emulate. He has show what it means to serve the club honorably. He has not, though, done enough to become a legend at Stamford Bridge.
In 10 years, will anyone sing his praises from the stands? Will he have banners hanging down like Terry and Lampard? Likely not.
Cesar Azpilicueta is, has been and will continue to be a great….nay…brilliant, sterling servant of the club.
Edited by: Dan