…… Quintuple centurion on his Chelsea firsts, his rivals and his special milestone
We continue to celebrate Cesar Azpilicueta reaching 500 games for Chelsea by talking to the man himself!
In 2011, not long before Cesar Azpilicueta moved to Chelsea, two club legends reached the 500-game milestone in the space of a few weeks of each other. To mark those special occasions, the official Chelsea website asked Frank Lampard and John Terry the same set of questions.
Now our current captain has joined them in the exclusive six-strong list that has played so many games for the club, in part one of our exclusive interview today we pose a selection of those questions to him as well while in tomorrow’s part two, we will ask him some of his own.
And to compare and contrast, you can revisit here the answers given by Lamps and JT 12 years ago
On this page however, it is Azpi’s turn…
What is your main memory of walking through the door at Chelsea for the first time?
It was quite late in August , I arrived at the training ground after having my medical and I remember I met [then manager] Roberto Di Matteo at that time, he was still in the building. I couldn’t meet any players because training had been in the morning so I chatted with Roberto for a while. I was really happy to step into the building to see the amazing facilities and I was excited to come back in the morning and have my first training session with my team-mates.
I was nervous, and I spoke with Juan Mata who I knew from the Spanish national team. The first day he helped me. Fernando Torres was one of my idols when I was growing as a kid and now I was his team-mate. The dressing room was full of world-class players and they welcomed me really well.
I felt really good since the first day, I had an exciting training session and I remember the next day was a game against Newcastle at home which I was not involved in, but that could give me the chance to be already with the team.
How do you now view your debut?
Well it took a while. I remember my first game in a Chelsea shirt was on the Academy pitch against Charlton during the international break in September, it was a friendly game. That made me realise that I needed to work my way into the first team. I knew I was not a signing where I could walk straight into the team and be a regular. I had to work on my own path.
Then I had to wait until late September and a League Cup match against Wolverhampton. I was very excited, I wanted to play and then I didn’t want the game to finish because I was enjoying it, we were winning 6-0 and it was a very good debut and my first time playing at Stamford Bridge.
Can you still replay in your mind every moment of your first goal?
Yes. I can remember. It was at Arsenal. I had been watching when we were playing that year with Jose Mourinho and we were quite dangerous from transitions, even from set-pieces. The first few months I was not involved every game so that allowed me to learn and to see what the players could do and learn from them.
There was one thing that stuck in my mind so for that moment when I scored, it was an Arsenal corner and I felt we could make a quick transition. After the Arsenal header back, I remembered to go and put my foot out in front of the goalkeeper and scored. If instead Arsenal had recovered the ball and we took a transition from them and we conceded a goal, maybe that would have been the last time I played! But sometimes you have to go with the instinct and at that moment I really enjoyed that goal. The celebration was like crazy, it was another moment of joy.
Best advice received over the course of those 500 games?
There are so many but there’s no one thing specifically where I would say that it changed or made a difference because I think it’s an accumulation of little things that I’ve learned from different managers, people in the club, team-mates.
I think you always have to give everything, that’s the way I see life. I see football as something with joy, being here training every day like if it was a game. That allows you to be ready for every single game. It’s very important that approach.
I’ve seen players who don’t train very well and then they are amazing in the games, but this is not the normal basis in football. Even though some talented players can do it, it’s not the normal. The normal common thing for me is a matter of giving everything every day, being happy to be here, walk through the door and train as hard as I could, win everything I could, have the feeling that you give everything and then being ready for the next challenge.
What is missing so far?
Always football is about the present. It’s very nice to look back and see how successful we have been. When I joined the club in 2012, just after the first Champions League win, you could see how successful the club was at winning trophies so when you arrive you want to keep going, you want to feel what they felt, the other team-mates when winning trophies.
Then, once you win the first title, you want the second and I think there is never a moment when you say well that’s it. When you’re at Chelsea that ambition is always there. You want always the next one. Whatever trophy is in front of you, you want to grab.
Have there been periods when as a team you have been absolutely flying, knowing you were going into a game and could not lose?
Yeah, there have been a couple of times. When we won the Premier League with Mourinho, we had a period when we were playing amazing and you feel strong – the big games, you’re ready for it – and we had an amazing team.
With Antonio Conte as well when we won the Premier League, we had a long run of winning. We just couldn’t concede a goal, we were so strong, we scored goals, we were a team that was very solid. We could enjoy the Champions League run as well when we won it. We felt really strong.
It is difficult to achieve that but once you achieve it as a team it is very powerful. There is the respect you gain as well from the opponents when you step on the pitch. You feel strong, you feel connected and the times we have had this feeling is amazing but you have to keep working hard every day to maintain it, it’s not easy.
There are different ways, different players, different managers, different styles of play. In football there is no absolute truth of how to win. We have seen over the years that there are many ways of winning and you have to get yours and just try to maximise what you have. I’ve seen many managers and everyone always had this mentality of going to win every game.
Best thing you’ve seen one of your Chelsea team-mates do?
I’ve been lucky to see many great individual actions but in my head is Eden’s goal at Liverpool because I was very close. I remember he passed me the ball, I passed it back and I could be in the perfect spot to follow it. His action was really good – the high speed, the quality and the finish. It depends on the position where you are, you can see it differently, but it was amazing.
Who has felt the biggest rival over the 500 games?
The derbies always. Arsenal, Tottenham. The London derbies are something that since I arrived are special games. I remember my first one was against QPR and you have the feeling that when it is a London derby day there is always that extra special atmosphere. We want to win every game but for the fans as well. That atmosphere it can create at home and away is something different and when you win you enjoy it doubly.
Your best goal?
I would say against Leicester. The one that was something a bit different. I really enjoyed it.
You’ve passed a lot of milestones but does the 500-game one seem special?
It is special because it’s the most recent one but I never looked at the games, I just kept playing, my mind always was trying to recover as quick as possible to be available for the next one. Prepare myself to have this consistency and to work on my recovery, my preparation, to try to avoid injuries and to be in the best condition to get my spot in the team.
So that was the mentality I always tried to go with. When you win trophies you want to win more but sometimes, when you sit back a bit and you know only six players in the history of Chelsea have made it, of course it’s a moment that I’m really proud of. I never set any target when I arrived and to see where I am now is something that I’m really proud of, but I always want more.