César Azpilicueta (Zizur Mayor, Navarra, 31 years old) came to Chelsea in the summer of 2012 from Olympique de Marseille. Seven and a half years later he is the captain and has lifted two Premier League (2015 and 2017), two European Leagues (2013 and 2019), one FA Cup (2018) and one League Cup (2015). He has just exceeded 400 games with the blues and he is the tenth defenseman with the most assists in the history of the Premier. In this time he has seen a bunch of coaches parade: Di Matteo, Rafa Benítez, Mourinho, Sarri, Conte, Lampard and now the German Thomas Tuchel, with whom he plays as a right central in a line of three. “I feel comfortable, with Conte I was already playing there,” he says.
Ask. The captaincy in English clubs has a very active and representative sense of the club outwards.
Answer. Clubs in England have other structures and sometimes it involves more responsibilities. You have to represent the club inside and outside. I like to visit the sports city of Cobham, we have a spectacular academy in which the U-18s have been European champions several times. I see players who later come to train with us or with the women’s team, one of the strongest in Europe.
P. As captain he has had to face the racism suffered by his colleagues like Rüdiger.
R. These are incidents that, unfortunately, we are talking about in the year 2021 and it saddens me. The club owner [el magnate ruso Roman Abramovich] he is very active in campaigns against racism and discrimination. There shouldn’t even be a chance that a partner might be affected by this kind of thing. We know that we are public figures and that when we do not play well we will be criticized, but we must not cross the line with those racist comments on social networks. The platforms must take a step forward, I have always asked for identification, that people do not hide behind a screen and be responsible for their actions.
P. With the covid-19, there was an involvement of the Premier League players, led by the captains, in the creation of a fund to help Social Security. Has it helped you to remove the label of frivolous collective?
R. We wanted the initiative to encompass all the Premier League players, to do something great, beyond what each one would later do individually. England is a very special country and the coronavirus has affected a lot. It was gratifying that everyone got involved, no matter what country or club we were. Going all of the hand was important.
P. Lampard was a symbol of Chelsea, has the fans taken its toll on his dismissal?
R. I was Frank’s teammate and then he was my coach and what we wanted was the same, to win. He is a legend, he has always shown it. The players are also responsible for the results, none of us want to be in that situation, we all suffer it. Whenever there is a change of coach, the players are looked at. The club decided to change to improve the dynamics and achieve the results that are required of Chelsea.
P. Where did Tuchel start to get his hands on the team?
R. The tactic has changed, now we are playing with three centrals. He always wants to control the game with the ball because we have attacking people who can make a difference. Defensively we have to be more solid, we were conceding a lot of goals and to qualify for everything we have to be stronger behind. In these few games we have recovered ground, we were very far from the top, but we have not done anything yet.
P. Is Tuchel following the Guardiola or Klopp line of pressing high and looking for quick transitions?
R. It is the idea, but we are talking about coaches who have been working in a team for a long time, we have only been with Tuchel for a few weeks. He wants the team to be the protagonist with and without the ball. Recover quickly and place attacking players where they can make a difference. We must show that we are capable of maintaining that style.
P. You and Koke are the only survivors of the 2014 semi-finals.
R. Atlético at that time was a very strong team, with Courtois, Filipe, Costa, Adrián, Raúl García, Tiago, Juanfran… They were an experienced team, ex officio, that fought. In the first leg we drew 0-0 and at Stamford Bridge we did the hardest thing, score 1-0. They showed that character to get up, they tied us and in the second half they were superior (1-3).
P. What does this Atlético tell you?
R. El Cholo has changed systems, but they still have that competitive gene. Now he has different players, they like to play with the ball more and come from behind with him.