At club level, Cesar Azpilicueta has no more worlds to conquer.
He joined Chelsea in 2012. The Blues had just lifted the Champions League, but Azpilicueta immediately became a big part of the side. He helped the Blues win the Europa League and then, over the next eight years, won two Premier Leagues, an EFL Cup, a FA Cup, another Europa League in 2019 and finally, at the end of 2020/21, the Champions League.
All of this was achieved under multiple managers and various approaches. Whether it was the passing precision of ‘Sarriball’, Antonio Conte’s hurricane 3-4-3, or the defensive joy of Jose Mourinho; Azpilicueta has always managed to make himself indispensable thanks to his combination of skill, professionalism and the heart of a lion. He is an incredibly successful footballer, a born leader, a well-decorated legend.
▪️ 428 games
▪️ 8 managers
▪️ 6 trophies
César Azpilicueta is a Chelsea legend and barely misses a minute. But there is one thing he needs to add to his trophy cabinet. #UCLfinal
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) May 29, 2021
So, at international level, why does he only have 25 caps for Spain? Azpilicueta was part of the U19 side that won the 2007 Euros, and the U21 side that won the 2011 Euros, and he even made his national team debut in 2013, playing 90 minutes against Uruguay as a right-back. And after a great 2013/14 for the Blues, he was even Spain’s starting right-back heading into the 2014 World Cup.
But that summer in Brazil was a disaster for Spain. Dani Carvajal played 90 minutes in the defeats to the Netherlands and Chile, and was thus dropped for the final group game. None of it was Azpilicueta’s fault, of course, but changes were needed and he fell by the wayside.
The form of Carvajal and Jordi Alba made it hard for Azpilicueta to get back into the side as a starting full-back for either of the flanks he had become proficient in playing. But even when Carvajal was injured (which started happening from 2017 onwards) he couldn’t get any joy.
Perhaps the idea of him as a tough-tackling defender was too much for Spain’s self-image to swallow as they desperately tried to recreate the glory days of 2008 to 2012, despite not being at that level anymore. More proactive players like Alvaro Odriozola and Jesus Navas would get extended runs in the side because, due to what they offered in attack, they fit what Spain ‘should be’.
Most tackles in the Champions League this season:
◉ Cesar Azpilicueta (26)
◉ Jorginho (26)
The Chelsea pair topping the pile. pic.twitter.com/fxs6z8IXyd
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 30, 2021
While Azpilicueta may not be the defender Spain think they deserve, he’s the one they need right now. A rock solid defensive presence who is useful in attack, but who is most importantly a stout leader. He is a colossal figure that demands excellence from every teammate and leaves 100% of himself out on the field every time he plays.
Azpilicueta never takes it easy. It’s 100mph all the time, every time. “He is a fighter, a team player. He does not accept limits,” said Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel a month before they won the Champions League, an achievement Mourinho suggested was on the horizon for Azpilicueta seven years ago.
“Azpilicueta is the kind of player I like a lot,” said Mourinho in 2014. “I think a team with 11 Azpilicuetas probably could win the [Champions League], because football is not just about the pure talent.
“Football is also about character and personality and Azpilicueta has all those traces of a winning personality.”
As Sergio Ramos is going to miss Euro 2020, having someone like Azpilicueta around to continually keep everyone sharp and focused, just as he did for Chelsea in Porto, is going to be imperative to any success they might have.
And as the only right-back in the squad, Azpilicueta is guaranteed to start (although it might be at right centre-back in a back three, with Marcos Llorente at wing-back) and will get his first chance since 2014 to show what he can do starting for Spain at a major tournament.
Spain’s Euro 2020 odds with William Hill:
- To win Group D: 3/10
- To reach the semi-finals: 7/4
- To win Euro 2020: 15/2
(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)
He’s had to wait until 31 years of age to finally get that chance, that moment, but now that he has the starting role in his grasp, do you really think he will let it go? He’s proven himself essential to nine managers in nine years at Chelsea, and through his cast-iron leadership he’s about to prove himself essential to Luis Enrique for Spain as well.