The group hug after the whistle on the green grass of “Unser Stadion” between John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba symbolized not only the culmination of Chelsea’s quest to win the Champions League, but it also signaled the beginning of the end of the Blues’ much vaunted “Old Guard”, the very core of the team for much of the previous decade.
It took a few years for all of them to fade away like the proverbial old soldiers that they were, but eventually they all did and Chelsea have struggled to replace them. One man who’s become perhaps the closest embodiment of that ethos is César Azpilicueta, whom we just call Dave. He arrived a few months after that famous night on the 19th of May; now, over six years later, he’s one of the elder statesmen of the group, the Vice-captain (but usually matchday captain since Gary Cahill is no longer first-choice), and de facto leader of the team most days, the one carrying on the legacy of the Old Guard.
“When I came, I was lucky to have JT and Lamps and, even though they didn’t wear the armband, Ashley, Didier, Petr. I always felt from their behaviour on the day-by-day basis you can tell they were helping you. Sometimes not even saying anything, but just with their eyes. They made me understand what it was to play for Chelsea, for the fans, the whole club, it is something that as soon as you come in you take it and you feel it.”
Azpilicueta is back on the right side of the defense these days, just as in his first season at Chelsea, but he truly established himself as an indispensable player for the club as a left back under Mourinho and as a center back under Conte. Azpi considers it a challenge every time he’s asked to switch positions, an opportunity to learn, to grown, and to work even harder. It’s the sort of selfless attitude that makes him a great leader, and it’s also something he saw in action (and absorbed) from players like Ashley Cole, too, whose position he directly took once Mourinho switched him to left back.
“He always [treated me] with great respect. That was amazing from a big player like him, the best left-back in Europe. We still built a good relationship and are talking a lot, and more than football, it is something I have in my mind and I really appreciate.”
“When the manager asks me to change positions, I never took it as a bad thing. It gives me the chance to learn from different players and positions and get better. There is no secret - it is hard work and consistency. I always try to train hard on the pitch, do analysis to improve off the pitch and whatever it takes to be ready for the next game.
“There is no personal glory without team wins, so I always put the team in front. To do that you have to push hard by yourself to make the targets happen.”
-César Azpilicueta; source: Mirror