Chelsea captain César Azpilicueta is hungry to lift another European trophy at the club where he has developed a strong emotional bond
INTERVIEW GRAHAM HUNTER
FOR THE CLUB
César Azpilicueta has known all about big games since the first moment of his professional career – away to Real Madrid as a 17-year-old with Osasuna. That daunting baptism has evidently served him well, and the full-back has thrived in high-pressure contests since joining Chelsea in 2012, his flexibility in defence making him a valuable asset. Known affectionately by Blues supporters as ‘Dave’, Azpilicueta has grown in responsibility at the club he says “means everything”, and he was a natural choice to captain the side on the pitch last season, fulfilling his role by lifting the UEFA Europa League trophy in Baku. It was the 29-year-old’s second triumph in the competition, but he is focused now on starting the new campaign with his first UEFA Super Cup, after the pain of Chelsea’s defeats in the 2012 and
What was the secret to Chelsea’s success in the UEFA Europa League final?
As I said in the press conference before the game, “When you’re in a European final against Arsenal, you get energy from everywhere.” We felt good, we felt confident. In the first half, the game was even. Both teams had a lot of chances, so we knew we had to raise our level. We were able to do that. As soon as the ball was played in the second half, we just moved forward, pressed better, controlled better and put our best players in better conditions. With the first goal, everything became easier. To lift the Europa League for the second time was special for me, being the captain. It’s something I will always remember.
Do you recall the moment? So many players afterwards say they can’t remember lifting the cup.
Obviously, I can remember a lot. I remember when the game was finished, the celebrations, trying to find my family. But afterwards, it was so quick. As soon as you lift the trophy, there are pictures, the celebrations inside the dressing room with our families and friends. It was very quick. You would like to go back and say, “Come on! Enjoy it more!” because it went by really fast. Obviously, I really enjoyed it when I was on the plane coming back to London.
Does the fact that you are facing Liverpool make this UEFA Super Cup more important?
In this cup, we lost in 2012 and 2013. It hurts to lose a final and miss out on that trophy. I don’t agree that now it’s more important. It’s always been important. Obviously, it’s something special because you’re playing against Liverpool, it’s the first week of competitive games, so you can start the season very well. It’s a target for us, and there’s a trophy to lift. So I’m sure that all of us – the manager, the staff, the players – have to work hard to get into the best condition possible to lift that trophy. Personally, I have something inside me that I want to bring out, and hopefully we can take the trophy back to the Bridge.
What is it like to play against this Liverpool side?
This Liverpool team have been working [together] for quite a long time, three or four years. You don’t see a lot of players that have stayed in the starting XI since the manager arrived. There’s been quite a big change in all the players and the style he wanted to play. They’ve got very good players; they have great confidence. This year, they were fighting for the most difficult league in the world until the last day. They won the Champions League, so obviously they deserve huge credit. But we need to focus on ourselves. I’m sure we will try to hurt them when we can, but we have to be aware of their qualities, because they have a lot and they showed they were the strongest team in Europe. It’s up to us to raise our level, to match them, and hopefully to beat them.
“To lift the Europa League for the second time was special for me, being the captain. It’s something I will always remember”
What does Chelsea Football Club mean to you?
For me, it means everything. I’m lucky enough to have a great connection with the fans, with the owner, the staff, with everybody working at the club. I feel that confidence on the pitch. When I arrived in 2012 at a club that had won the Champions League, I knew I had to fight. I had the chance to share the dressing room with amazing players, amazing friends, and the quality was really high. I tried to create my own path by learning from everyone. I’ve always given my best on the pitch, off the pitch, in training, in games. We’ve had very good moments, we’ve had some bad moments as well, but I always stay focused. My love for the club is something special and I will always give my best for it.
Is the balance of power moving away from Spanish to English football?
The Premier League is getting stronger and we saw, for the first time in history, Liverpool finishing second with over 90 points. But we need to see this consistency in the coming years to see if English teams can keep reaching the latter stages of European competitions, because until now Sevilla won the Europa League a couple of times in a row, and Barcelona and Real Madrid were always in the final of the Champions League. This year was something exceptional, and to have four teams in the finals means we did a very good job. It’s up to us to keep that level we have in the Premier League and bring it to European football, and hopefully we can.