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Azpilicueta reflects on his career-long journey to the Chelsea captaincy

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Lifelong preparation

Liverpool v Chelsea: UEFA Super Cup Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

César Azpilicueta has only been the Chelsea captain officially for a couple months, but he’s effectively held it for well over a year, ever since Gary Cahill’s minutes started to slowly dwindle, first with the arrival of Antonio Rüdiger, who displaced him on the left end Conte’s back three for much of the season, and then the arrival of Maurizio Sarri, who did not favor the club captain at all and gave him barely a sniff of minutes on the pitch.

But Azpilicueta has been preparing for this leadership role all his life, growing into the armband from an early age. In fact, he was already captain at under-17, under-19, and under-21 levels for Spain, including for their triumphant U19 Euro 2007 campaign, as well as the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

“When I was young, at club level I was not involved in captaincy because I was always playing with the older players. In youth teams I was two years ahead so there were people more experienced around me and then I made my debut for Osasuna at 17 years old.

“Then pretty quickly I moved to Marseille but at youth level in the national team I was captain in the Under-17s and in the Under-19s when we won the European Championship in 2007. I was the captain in the final.”

“I was the captain of Spain Under-21s and I was one of the captains at the Olympics, so I have been involved in that kind of role and here in Chelsea when I arrived, I just grew up progressively and I knew I was sitting next to big, big players. I was lucky to learn from all of them and try to be myself and to give my best.”

-César Azpilicueta; Source: Chelsea FC

Azpilicueta certainly has big shoes (armbands?) to fill at Chelsea, following two of the biggest club legends in John Terry and Frank Lampard, as well as Captain Biceps himself, Gary Cahill.

SL Benfica v Chelsea FC - UEFA Europa League Final Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

But as one of the eldest statesmen remaining at the club amid the youth revolution, Azpilicueta can draw upon his experiences of working with and learning from those who had come before him

“John Terry was part of my career here at Chelsea. He was the captain and I had the chance to see him every day on and off the pitch. The way he trained and the way he was living the team. He was a big influence and it is something that you take with you and you put in your bag. It is a big help.”

“I could see when we were sharing the dressing room, now I can see it as a manager. [Lampard’s] passion, his desire to win. He is a winner. I reflect that in myself, the way I come here to Cobham. I know the club quite well, a lot of people who are around and I really feel involved in the day-to-day club life. I have passion when I go to the training ground. I always like to win every single possession game or whatever in training. I want to get that into the games where I am very proud to lead the team.”

-César Azpilicueta; source: Chelsea FC

Chelsea v Arsenal - UEFA Europa League Final Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

“Gary was the captain last year even if he was not very involved in the team. He was always there supporting me and helping me with the duties we had to share. Since we were named the captain and vice-captain, we always tried to work together to find the solutions.

“Last season, nearly the whole season I was the captain on the pitch and it is something where I am used to it but always you try to improve. Being nearly the third season but now as club captain, I just try to give my best because I am very proud to be the club captain and I will give everything to do it right.”

After seven seasons and six trophies, some might be tempted to relax and take things easy.

But Azpilicueta is famous for his competitive streak, be that in matches or just on the training ground, and that made last season’s Europa League title all the more special. It was his first Chelsea trophy as captain — and hopefully the first of many — and, as he reveals, the first for any Spanish player as a captain outside of Spain!

“It was big emotions when I lifted the trophy. In that moment you just enjoy it because as a captain I lost the Community Shield and the Carabao Cup final so before the Europa League final I had this inside me.

“You want to win trophies and leading the team is something special. I was the first Spanish player to do that in a team abroad. I did not even know that before but they told me that afterwards and it was a big achievement of which I am really proud. I had strong feelings because to win a trophy being captain is something special and hopefully there are many more to come.”

-César Azpilicueta; Source: Chelsea FC

Now that he’s officially entrusted with the armband, Azpilicueta’s purview has expanded as well. The times they are a-changing at the club, unmistakably and resoundingly, and as one of the veteran leaders, Azpi is also tasked with providing guidance for the young homegrown generation who will ideally develop into the next Chelsea core. It’s a task that head coach Frank Lampard has talked about from day one, and Azpi has quickly started repeating as well. He’s nothing if not a quick learner.

“We have a lot of players coming through the Academy and it is a big responsibility and I enjoy the role. I have had the chance to play a lot of games and win trophies so my responsibility is to help all of them, to get them into the team with confidence to show what they have shown in the Academy or with the loan spells where they were very successful.

“I am always ready to help them when they need it. They know I am here to help them but what I always had is the passion and the hunger to keep winning and it is something that we must never lose.”

Ironically, it is one of those youngsters, Reece James (now back in training!), who just might unseat Azpilicueta from his nailed on spot the starting lineup, and continue Chelsea’s recent habit of relegating club captains to the bench.

But Azpi has won his place under more managers at Stamford Bridge than we care to count, and it would be unwise to write him already, even if his performances so far this season have come under closer scrutiny than ever before.

“I have the experience, I have this characteristic in myself that I always face reality. At times when not being captain I did it as well and now we have a younger team, sometimes you have to show your face and it is part of the job. I always felt part of the team when things are going well or when they are going wrong.

‘I am first to analyse and to improve, first of all myself because I am someone who always likes to win and to try to get as close as possible to perfection. With my personality, with my passion, with my character I try to influence everyone next to me in every training session and every game. With the fans when we have tough moments I am the first to be there and to help anyone.

“We know we are in Chelsea and we have a lot of responsibilities, on and off the pitch, and you have to be ready in every moment.”

-César Azpilicueta; source: Chelsea FC

So say we all.

Norwich City v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Chelsea Football Club/Chelsea FC via Getty Images