césar Azpilicueta’s yr began with him successful the World Cup and may just finish with him successful the World Cup, too. “And in the middle,” he says, “everything happened.” The Spain defender is guffawing however he hasn’t at all times during the last 11 months. The means he describes 2022, his sixteenth yr in elite soccer and probably the most surreal, tough and probably a hit, the entirety in point of fact does sound like the entirety. “It feels like three years and we’re still in December. We started as world champions with Chelsea, the only [club] title I didn’t have. Then: the war, the sanctions, the personal situation …”
And now the World Cup once more, this time along with his nation: a chain of conferences with pals and the hope of the easiest just about the longest yr. That’s what he needs, and in addition what he has long past for within the Spanish gamers’ predictions league. Azpilicueta settles right into a chair in at his college coaching base at the eve of the last-16 tie with Morocco. There’s so much to get via so let’s get started within the heart. With the moments when it began to fall aside, Azpilicueta was once now not simply undecided whether or not he would keep at Chelsea however whether or not there could be a Chelsea to stick at.
Two weeks after successful the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Roman Abramovich introduced that he was once turning in keep watch over of the membership. By mid-March, his belongings have been frozen and spending limits imposed, elevating doubts about Chelsea’s skill to proceed. Buyers have been sought, a sale sooner or later secured in May. New house owners with new concepts, now not tied to what have been determined prior to – together with guarantees over Azpilicueta’s long run. Which is why the captain stays one of the crucial few constants.
“It’s hard, a situation we hadn’t lived before: we changed owners, manager, some of the medical staff …” Azpilicueta starts, describing a void into which the gamers stepped, taking duty and attaining into their wallet: any person needed to put To set up petrol within the crew bus. He grins on the thought of him status at the forecourt, nozzle in hand. “Not everything said is true,” he says, however him paying for gas is a kind of tales this is. “Look, many people leant a hand, not just me: staff, people with a passion for the club, who helped in difficult moments. We did what we had to.
“There were some things we did have to pay for among us. Players, staff, and employees never had any problems in terms of getting paid, but there were things we helped with. That’s where you really see people, who they are. Being captain isn’t only about the lovely moments when you lift the trophy but being there in hard times, too. It’s not about your personal situation, but the people around you. And where you feel fulfilled is when those people say: ‘Thanks.'”
For Azpilicueta, there was an added layer, in the final year of his contract and contemplating a return to Spain after 12 years away, a decade in London. There were family reasons to head back as well as football ones. Chelsea initially offered a single-year extension; Barcelona offered a longer, more secure deal and Xavi Hernández was insistent. According to his contract, Azpilicueta renewed automatically at Stamford Bridge if he played 30 games, but had been promised he would not be held to that: he had earned the right to choose. The change of administration, though, meant those assurances no longer applied.
“I had an unusual situation, because I’d never been in the final year of my contract before. I had the 30-game clause. The club was frozen. We didn’t know who was coming, if they would want me. Everything had changed. What I could do was what I had always done since arriving in 2012: give commitment. The club is my home, I’m the captain. What I could do was available, play as much as I could.”
That proved decisive. Azpilicueta gave himself no way out just as he had decided it was time to head home; commitment counted against him. Antonio Rüdiger went to Madrid, Andreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso joined Barcelona. Many players would discover a convenient injury. Some would stop at 29, refuse. “Yes,” he says softly. So why didn’t you? “I couldn’t. I wouldn’t have been comfortable. That’s not me. But it rebounds on you. “Well, that’s life. I couldn’t do something like that, it didn’t fit. I’ve always been honest, committed: not just in words but in deeds.
“I had that clause and the extra year was maybe worse conditions than elsewhere. But that wouldn’t have made me happy. Happiness for me is being there in the hard moments at Chelsea, something we had never, ever experienced before. Those months were a strange situation. The new owners came, trusted me, saw me as an important part of the new project. I decided to stay. I am very happy.
“It’s my home. I’m Spanish of course, but my daughters were born there. When we went to Marseille years ago, it was just me and my wife; now there are three kids. We’re delighted there. People at my kids’ school, my wife’s friends, those you see daily, people at the club, are happy you’re still with them. That gives you satisfaction.
If the captain stayed, the coach was soon gone. Now there are suggestions that Thomas Tuchel is a candidate for the Germany job. “We spent 18 months working together and I learned loads,” Azpilicueta says. “He had a tremendous impact: European champions in four months, the Super Cup, the Club World Cup. He trusted in me when I wasn’t playing much with the previous coach. I had the best months of my career, returned to the national team, went to the Euros.”
When Azpilicueta played in Spain’s 5–0 win against Slovakia at Euro 2020 in June 2021, it was his first game for the selection since 2018. Now, he is at his third World Cup, even if it almost ended early. Withdrawn with a knock that would not prevent him facing Morocco, he watched Japan come back to win 2–1. For a few minutes in the second half, Spain were out – “there were a lot of nerves,” Azpilicueta says – but Kai Havertz led Germany’s response against Costa Rica, rescuing seeing Spain and sending them through to play Morocco. Time to say thanks, then?
“I spoke to Kai,” Azpilicueta says. “We have a great relationship. There’s not much you can say: that you’ve been through it, you know it’s hard and hopefully he has another chance in four years.”
There was relief but Spain’s passage didn’t wash away the pessimism, given their defeat – and the nature of it. “I understand it’s hard for fans to be optimistic after that, but on the inside it’s different. You have to keep that balance: winning 7-0 doesn’t mean you’ll win the World Cup and losing doesn’t mean its over. Now it’s do or die.
If they do die, it will be their way, although Azpilicueta advises against slipping into easy cliche as debate begins over whether Spain has to change having apparently been victims of their style. Takefusa Kubo said the Japanese took advantage of Spain’s refusal to just “boot the fucking thing”.
“Sometimes you have to,” Azpilicueta says. “But the manager is the first to tell us to whack it if we have to. It’s not like we’re there dribbling around, doing things we shouldn’t. There’s a clear philosophy [but] for a reason, not just playing. It’s the culture we’ve had since I joined the national [youth] team at 15, a way of being the best we can. I watch videos, learn spaces. It’s a calculated risk. We do it with an objective not just for the sake of taking risks.
“Morocco are very difficult to create chances against. Clear ideas, strong up front, quality in midfield, full-backs who are offensive, with ability. They got seven points in the group; no one got more and not many got seven [only the Netherlands and England], They only let in one goal and allowed five shots, beat Belgium, drew with Croatia. And they have Hakim Ziyech, who has a left foot of incredible quality. He’s in a great moment, confident. We’ll have to ensure he’s in the game as little as possible.”
Azpilicueta hasn’t spoken to him. Maybe after, a second clubmate to console? “Let’s hope so,” he laughs. It may just turn out to be a addiction. Mason Mount subsequent? “That could be excellent.” Another laugh. “He’s a fantastic player. England have so many good players, an infinite range of choices.”
And so right here he’s, again the place all of it started. It was once on the floor the place Spain performed their final recreation, the Khalifa Stadium, that Azpilicueta performed his first for the nationwide crew in 2013.
“Only Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are left,” he says. “I shared a dressing room with the technology that received two Euros and a World Cup, realized from them. There’s a transition now and with a bit of luck this may also be where we are championing once more. This is a brand new technology. There are instances you assist however the youngsters now have such self belief. Take Gavi’s debut. They have been telling me: ‘Keep him calm.’ What do you imply, ‘Keep him calm’? Normally it’s important to get them going, push them. No, no, now not him: there he was once kicking other people. I used to be like: there is not any means I can have accomplished that at 17.”
Azpilicueta is 33 now. Nine years have handed since his first recreation for Spain, 10 since his debut for Chelsea, however none moderately like 2022. And it isn’t even over but.