A farewell to Dave: Cesar Azpilicueta’s Chelsea exit marks the end of a truly special era

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Cesar Azpilicueta has bid farewell to Chelsea after more than a decade at the club

“We just call him Dave”; it’s 3am in a poky student accomodation kitchen, Freshers Week, September 2014. Me and a ringlet-haired boy with the faintest clipping of a cockney accent are deep in discussion about football - as we would be so often over the next three years - and in particular, his beloved Chelsea. Conversation has turned to the relative merits of one Cesar Azpilicueta. Even then, nearly a decade ago, the Spaniard was a Stamford Bridge favourite. What he has achieved and contributed in the years since has only cemented his status as a fully certified club legend.

As far as nicknames go, Dave could hardly be more fitting - and not just because it negated the need for an entire fanbase to get to grips with a moniker that, at first glance, looks like an unfortunate opening hand in Scrabble. There is a dependability about Azpilicueta, a reassuring normality. Everybody knows a Dave. Some people know multiple. It’s a name that evokes quiet pints with communal bags of crisps for the table and borrowed Ford Transits on moving days. Dave is a selfless name, unbothered even by the trappings of anything beyond mono-syllabic recognition. And for what it’s worth, Azpilicueta is a selfless presence for Chelsea. Or rather, he was. That’s going to take some getting used to.

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Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea acknowledges the fans after the Premier League match  (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea acknowledges the fans after the Premier League match  (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea acknowledges the fans after the Premier League match (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images) | Getty Images

On Thursday, a tearful Azpi sat before a camera in West London and explained, in quivering tones, that he would be leaving the Blues after almost 11 years on their books. It was a video that had the distinct vibe of a dusty tape found in the final act of a weepy romcom, some months after one of the protagonists has succumbed to a tragic fate; heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure. At the age of 33, he will return to his home country to embark on a one-year deal with Atletico Madrid. Even in the twilight of his career, it would seem, he remains a highly sought after talent.

“It is difficult to express how I feel, it has been incredible,” he offers in the footage, through simmering sobs. “I feel I gave everything. I love it... Chelsea is my home, it always will be and hopefully I can come back in a different role.” It’s certainly something you can imagine; Azpilicueta the coach, Azpilicueta the perpetual caretaker as Chelsea’s revolving managerial door spins with the ferocity of a dust bowl tornado. But more than anything else, the veteran defender is right about one thing; he gave it his all.

The accolades and figures speak for themselves. Azpilicueta is one of just six players to have won the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup, while his 13 appearances across various finals remains a club record. He has been capped 44 times by Spain, and has survived 10 managerial tenures at Stamford Bridge, as well as a recent, whacky change in ownership.

He won the Premier League under Jose Mourinho in 2015 and again under Antonio Conte in 2017, and became only the second Chelsea captain to lift the Champions League when he skippered Thomas Tuchel’s side to a tight and tense triumph over Manchester City in Porto back in 2021. Then, of course, there are a smattering of other trophies besides - two Europa League titles won six years apart, an FA Cup, a Carabao Cup. He gave everything and plundered everything in return.

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But the reasons that Azpilicueta will be remembered so fondly are much broader than the scope of the engraver’s Dremel. Whether it was out wide in his preferred role as full-back or tucked into the heart of a backline as a makeshift centre-half of sorts, the Spaniard was relentless; dedicated and diligent regardless of context or obstacle. He was a piston-lunged guerrilla fighter whose brain always worked just that fraction quicker than those around him, and indeed, his own legs most of the time. He was a constant enforcer of pride, an unerring leader with or without the captain’s armband, and a reliable yardstick for the standards that a club like Chelsea should hold themselves to, even in the grim depths of mid-table obscurity.

Back during the hazy summer of 2012, when Azpilicueta joined Chelsea and the end times were synonymous with a conspiratorial reading of the Mayan calendar rather than a swirling sewer drain of avaricious tech billionaires and duplicitous megalomaniacal world leaders, he set the Blues back just £6.5 million. It is hard to think of another player who has cost so little and done so much.

Then again, that is the way of the Dave; offer endlessly and expect nothing in return. Players like Azpilicueta are an ever scarcer rarity, and he will be dearly, dearly missed.

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