César Azpilicueta felt like his Chelsea journey had reached its logical conclusion. Ten years, all the trophies, every last one. New owners. Legs going. Nothing left to accomplish. Nothing left to prove. Club legend of the highest order. And of course we still just called him Dave.
Only six players in club history have worn the shirt more often. Only five have won more trophies. No one else had won at least one of each available to them.
But Azpilicueta felt his legs going, his motivation waning, and that was before the club became a plaything of geopolitical forces that resulted in a sudden and unexpected ownership transition that at times threatened the very fabric of the club.
If there ever was a time to make an exit, this was it. The start of a new era for the club, Azpi the last remnant of a long-gone era. Barcelona were calling, and few would’ve begrudged him taking that opportunity.
So what made him change his mind? As he tells it, it was a combination of the new owners being convincing and him feeling of responsibility to help the lead next generation into the new era.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen [...] The conversations were there (with Barcelona). After the Club World Cup where I became the only player to ever win every trophy (with Chelsea), (I felt) it was the time to go back (to Spain). At that moment, I felt differently. At that moment, it was like ‘wow I have won everything for this club so maybe a new chapter arrives’.
“[And] at the last break, my performances were not as good as before. I paid a big price for playing from December to February. I think I played the most minutes and I did it playing wing-back. Of course, I am not getting younger and it is a position that demands a lot of energy every three days and playing the Club World Cup. I think all the emotions, feelings and tiredness made me feel like this. The last two months, I wasn’t as good physically as before.
“[But the new owners] wanted me to stay here to lead the team both on and off the pitch. It’s a big thank you to them. They were very honest and transparent from the first day. I felt a responsibility to stay here in my home. My family are happy here. We have a new project with new players and youngsters coming in. I feel right and ready to look forward.”
Azpilicueta has been a nearly constant presence in Chelsea’s lineups over the past decade, be that at right back, left back, or center back, and while that’s likely to not be the case going forward — at least not to the same extent — Dave’s set to remain an invaluable presence on and off the pitch.
“I am really happy. Of course, it has been a crazy last few months. It felt right to carry on my journey here in a new project and I am really looking forward to the new season.”
-César Azpilicueta; source: Athletic
New project. Same old Dave.