The Rise and Rise of Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta, Aka 'Dave'
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After arriving from Marseille on the eve of the European Super Cup tie against Atletico Madrid, it's fair to say it wasn't just the timing that was awkward for Cesar Azpilicueta.
The majority of his teammates were established international stars, while the 23-year-old was your average footballer hailing all the way from Pamplona and, with a game of such magnitude about to take place, it's not the easiest time to settle into a new club.
With all due respect, a few of the Chelsea players would not have been aware of Dave's existence in football, although some may have come up against him, especially Juan Mata, who played for Valencia at the same time Azpilicueta was at boyhood club Osasuna.
The name "Dave" was simply sourced from the popular cockney television series Only Fools and Horses, and it has stuck ever since. According to his interview with The Guardian, the Chelsea players don't know how to pronounce his surname, and as a result they simply call him Dave.
But the rise of Azpilicueta has been nothing short of remarkable. Roberto Di Matteo's last signing before his sacking in November, the right-back arrived for a fee of £7 million from Ligue 1 outfit Marseille.
It was not a matter of the French club looking to offload the Spaniard; if anything, it was the exact opposite of what Elie Baup would've wanted, having only been appointed as manager in July 2012. But Marseille's financial difficulties meant that they needed to encourage Chelsea's interest, and after terms were agreed, Azpilicueta became the fourth Spanish player to join the club.
If he was hoping to make an instant impact, he would've been surprised by his lack of opportunities in the first few months of his career. Despite making the decision to sign Azpilicueta, Di Matteo opted to place the full-back in the Under-21 side go gain match practice.
Whether it was due to a lack of fitness or generally to allow Dave to acclimatize to the English game is unknown. Either way, he found his first-team chances limited to a few minutes from the bench, and any player would find this frustrating.
In fact, with his first Premier League appearance coming in the 1-1 draw against Swansea in November. It's unfair to say that when Di Matteo was sacked, Azpilicueta was happy. After all, this was the manager who had brought him to Stamford Bridge, and the two shared a good relationship.
But there's always something about having a manager from the same country which gives players a boost in confidence. Look at when Jose Mourinho joined Chelsea in 2004; he brought in Ricardo Carvalho, Tiago and Paulo Ferreira. Without "The Special One," would they have joined Chelsea and performed to the standard they did?
Effectively, Rafa Benitez has had a similar effect on Azpilicueta and the other Spaniards at the club, with Fernando Torres experiencing a revive under his former boss. When they share the same native tongue, Benitez is able to communicate in a certain way to his compatriots.
And perhaps the ex-Liverpool boss can take credit for the rise of Azpilicueta, who has blossomed into a first-team regular, making the right-back position his own. Branislav Ivanovic was the preferred choice under Di Matteo, but under Benitez, the Serb has played more of a bit-part role in central defense.
While he tends to venture forward, his ability lies in defense, timing his challenges perfectly and his man-marking ability is impeccable. Of course, every player has their weakness, and at times Azpilicueta can be guilty of being caught too far up the field.
Nevertheless, his pace usually helps him track back, and moving forward, he has played a major part in helping his Chelsea teammates score, making four assists in his 24 appearances this season.
His performances certainly haven't gone unnoticed on an international level, with Vicente Del Bosque handing the Chelsea full-back his full debut for Spain against Uruguay in February. The World Cup-winning coach praised Azpilicueta: "he has a lot of energy, defends well and is always willing to attack. We have a lot of hope for him." he told Chelsea's official website.
And at just 23, Azpilicueta has his whole career ahead of him. Where he has already improved, one can only imagine he can reach even dizzier heights with both Chelsea and Spain.
To think someone by the name of Dave could become a world-class player is unthinkable, but for Cesar Azpilicueta, it's well in his sights.
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