After eleven years and 508 appearances for Chelsea, Cesar Azpilicueta leaves Chelsea to join Atletico Madrid. Out of respect for Azpilicueta, the club has enabled a mutual termination of his current contract that would have kept him at Chelsea until June 2024, to leave as a free agent.
Without a doubt a legend of the club, the departure of Azpilicueta marks not only the end of an era for the Spaniard, but also an end of an era for the club. Signed from Marseille for £7 million, it is safe to say that this transfer has proven to be one of the most valuable in Chelsea’s history. A player that would always be known for his consistency and his incredible versatility that has allowed him to find success in any part of the defence. A quote from Jose Mourinho could demonstrate Azpilicueta’s importance, during Jose’s second spell as Chelsea manager he claimed that “A team with eleven Azpilicueta’s could win the Champions League.” (Mehta, 2014).
The defender has been used as a fullback, centre back and even as a wing-back for Chelsea, a manager’s perfect player. Under Mourinho, he was utilised as a left back, given the heavy responsibility of replacing Ashley Cole. Fortunately, he was suitable for the task and became one of the first names on the team sheet in a title winning team under Mourinho.
Antonio Conte then deployed Azpilicueta as a centre back in his infamous back 3 system that would result in Azpilicueta’s second premier League title for Chelsea. The Spaniard also became the 4th outfield player in Premier League history to play every minute of the Premier League season. Evidence of the reliability that Azpilicueta always gave Chelsea.
Under Maurizio Sarri, Azpilicueta reverted back to his more traditional fullback role, slotting in on the right-hand side of the defence as Chelsea went on to qualify for the Champions League and win the Europa League, which was also Azpilicueta’s second Europa league triumph at Chelsea.
The introduction of Reece James into the Chelsea setup caused Azpilicueta’s appearances to decrease compared to previous seasons. He featured in 25 games in the 19/20 Premier League season, a sizeable decrease from the 38 games played the year before. Whilst on the pitch, his role in the team would slowly lower in value, his role off the pitch became more significant as he became club captain after Gary Cahill’s departure in 2019.
Azpilicueta, whilst not the most vocal of captains in comparison to previous captains’ such as John Terry, was the perfect professional and led by example. He was a fantastic role model to have represented the club, previous captain John Terry, stated that Azpilicueta’s “Attitude was, I have to say, one of the best I came across in my entire football career.” (Chelsea, 2022).
Lampard’s sacking would result in Tuchel using Azpilicueta throughout a back 5, opting for a similar role to when he played centre back under Conte and as a right-wingback. His appearances increased at the start of Tuchel’s reign at Chelsea as the Spaniard was used in the same team as Reece James, alternating between each other as a right-sided centre back and wing-back. Azpilicueta would once again prove to be crucial to Chelsea’s success as he would put in a master class of a defensive performance against Manchester City in the 2021 Champions League final to almost complete his vast trophy cabinet. His defensive brilliance in the final ensured that Manchester City had no way through an impenetrable Chelsea defence.
Azpilicueta finally completed his trophy cabinet at club level in the 21/22 season, winning the Super cup and Club World Cup. He made Chelsea history, becoming the only Chelsea player to win every possible trophy whilst playing for the club. He also ranks sixth in appearances for most appearances in Chelsea’s history, showing not only his loyalty but also his consistent quality to have been picked for that many games for Chelsea.
Even though in the past couple of seasons, Azpilicueta’s quality of performance dropped off compared to his previous standards, he still was a useful player that Chelsea could always rely on. The decision to let him go as a free agent this summer is most likely the best decision for all parties and gives Azpilicueta the move he deserves, going to a quality team in his home country.
It is a shame to see another club legend leave Chelsea this summer and it does put a question mark on who the next captain will be. That being said, Chelsea fans should be grateful for everything that Azpilicueta has done for the club, his professionalism, versatility, reliability and quality has been outstanding during his time at Chelsea. The Spaniard thoroughly deserves the title of club legend and will forever be a prominent figure in Chelsea’s History.
Chelsea. (2022, August 23). Terry and Thiago praise ‘inspirational’ Azpi. Chelseafc.com. https://www.chelseafc.com/en/news/article/terry-and-thiago-praise-for-inspirational-azpi
Mehta, K.(2014, February 26). Jose Mourinho: A team with 11 Azpilicuetas could win the Champions League. Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2568336/Jose-Mourinho-A-team-11-Cesar-Azpilicuetas-win-Champions-League.html