Azpilicueta interview part two

– on injuries, positions, where is home and the secret to consistency

From the official Chelsea FC website:

Having yesterday answered a set of questions shared with others in the Chelsea 500-appearance club, in the second part of this exclusive interview we today ask our long-serving Spaniard some tailor-made queries…

It’s not every landmark where you get applause from your team-mates in the dressing room after a game, as happened for you at Anfield last weekend.

It was nice because it’s an achievement that I made through my team-mates as well. They helped me every day to have this. This is a moment of joy because we share a lot of moments together. We have some tough moments. We have happy moments. I think that’s really important to have the feeling of being together and stick together at every time.

If you look at the other five players you have joined in the Chelsea 500 Club, it can’t be an accident that those who played the most games also earned a reputation for giving everything in training.

I think it’s something that you have naturally or do not. It’s difficult to teach something when you don’t have this culture. I was growing up at Osasuna as a kid and I always had this approach, to every day go to training to give the maximum, training like it was a game, sometimes with bruises and kicks. That’s how I grew up and that’s how I felt. I had to work on my career.

When I arrived at Chelsea, I wanted to keep growing and you have to keep improving. If I see myself back in 2012, I see the improvement I had as a player and as a person. I have been over 10 years in the same place and that allows you to grow. Training and professionalism was something that I always had as my focus during the week, always to be in the best shape for training and the best shape for the game and then to recover.

I know sometimes my wife had to deal with that as well, when I was not winning and when you are a bit tired and you want to go out but you have to take care of your body. It’s also a big, big credit to her and my kids because they helped me during the journey as well.

We heard during your early years at Chelsea that you never drunk alcohol during the season. Is that still the case?

The day I felt I could celebrate more was against West Brom when we won the league [on Friday 12 May 2017]. But we had a game on the Monday after. Normally the manager would change the whole team but I was on a run of playing every minute. I never spoke with Antonio Conte about if I wanted to play or not, I just did what I felt I had to do which was to celebrate in a moderate way and to be ready because then after, we had the FA Cup final as well.

So I contained myself. My aim was to celebrate after the FA Cup final, and he picked me for the Monday game. It was an achievement to play every minute of that league-winning season. I could not imagine it when I started the season but then when you are so close you want to do what you can from yourself to be ready for it.

In all the time you have been at Chelsea you have only missed nine games due to injury or illness. That is quite incredible.

At Osasuna I didn’t have an injury. I went to Marseille and the first injury I had was my ACL. It kept me out for nearly six months and that changed my career, because that changed my body, that changed my way of approaching every day.

When you’re young and everything is going smoothly and easily, you feel everything’s always going to be like that, but when you are hit like this it makes you realise. You see people in the same hospital who have infections or some other problems after the surgery. That gives you an awareness. I was spending eight or nine hours every day on rehab in Marseille. The medical staff there prepared me really well and since then I’ve had my routine. Every week the same routine before and after to be ready.

I’m not happy with last season. I missed a few games where I normally don’t miss them, but sometimes you have to deal with that.

One other landmark you passed recently was overtaking Petr Cech’s 494 games to become Chelsea’s highest appearance maker from overseas, again no mean feat for someone who had to adapt from a different culture to settle so well here.

First of all, what can I say about Petr – the best goalkeeper in Premier League history, a Chelsea legend. What he achieved was amazing. It has never been my goal, individual awards and individual achievements. Those are part of the process, but when you arrive here and you see these kind of players and then after a few years, overtake their number of appearances, of course you enjoy it and you’re proud. It gives you a moment to enjoy because it’s not very easy to do.

How much does England feel like your home now?

My kids speak better English than Spanish. My wife is Spanish but sometimes at home between them they speak in English. The TV is in English. So this is my home.

I moved to Marseille for two years then I moved here and since we arrived, we felt like this place is home as well, but it was always a consequence of having the continuity at the club, having the confidence where I felt important so I wanted to keep going and being part of this club.

Taking it one step further, do you feel like a Londoner, with a connection to the city?

I live in Surrey which is a bit different, because of the training ground, but in London I’ve seen so many changes during the years and I’ve met a lot of people that I still have connections with. It is where I have friends and know people in the businesses and restaurants and shops, so for us it feels like home.

If you look at the breakdown of the number of games you have played in each position, although about 40 per cent of the 500 games have been at right-back, the rest are split pretty evenly between right centre-back and left-back, with a handful of wing-back appearances.

For sure it is true I arrived as a right-back and my first year I played right-back, but then with Mourinho I played left-back. Branislav [Ivanovic] was the right-back, a top player, and left-back was Ashley Cole so it was not easy – both are among the best defenders in the Premier League, so I had to just take the opportunity when I got the one to play right-back, and make the most of it when I had to play left-back.

Mourinho gave me the confidence playing left-back and Ashley with me has been always phenomenal. That was very important to allow me not to be stressed or be in a difficult position. Of course he wanted to play but he got an injury and I got the spot for a few games and Mourinho trusted me for that position.

I will always be grateful to Ashley as well because someone like him, with his career, to have this kind of behaviour, you always appreciate that. We fought for the position in a healthy, competitive environment and then the one who gets the most from that is the team.

One of the real successful switches was early in that 2016/17 season when you started the campaign at left-back but then went to right centre-back and the team did not look back.

It was at half-time against Arsenal when were 3-0 down when we switched the system and I was playing right wing-back. So it was more from left-back to right wing-back and then during the next week, Antonio [Conte] came to me and said I am going to play right centre-back in a back-three. I had never played there and then when we started to work on the patterns and seeing videos on the way he wanted to play, it clicked. We went on an amazing run.

Did becoming the captain give an extra boost to your Chelsea career?

Being the captain of Chelsea has a responsibility of course and I embrace it. When I was first handed the vice-captain role in 2017 and then became captain in 2018, I’d learned from so many players, captains and vice-captains, during my career. You have seen how they manage defeat and different situations. Sometimes you might not like how but everyone is a different personality and you have to develop as a leader, as a captain, and try to improve every day.

Over the 500 games, what has changed most?

Now the Premier League and football in general is becoming more competitive. Every club has more power and can get better players. The pace of the game is quicker and there is more data. The atmosphere always in the Premier League has been nice, even though now we have social media which sometimes can have a negative effect.

I’ve seen incidents that shouldn’t happen, even in the stadiums. I think we are in a different society that feeds into football, but you know what, when you step up on the pitch and with the away fans, I think it is the best atmosphere in the world to play football.

You weren’t tempted to say changes due to VAR as well?

Yeah, true. I forgot this one!

Finally, what would you say is the main key to consistency?

Give everything every single day and focus today on what you can do today. That will take care of the rest. If you think too far ahead you can miss a bit of the present and you will never reach that far. It’s better to concentrate on now.





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