19. March 2021

Author Sid LoweSpain

Dave, they called him. Just Dave. It’s just that… there. A reliable, safe and discreet Dave. It was originally a joke that’s old now and wasn’t that funny at the time, but maybe there’s something to it.

The story is familiar, and perhaps easy to remember with a London accent: When Cesar Azpilicueta joined Chelsea FC in 2012, then-captain John Terry decided his name was a bit difficult to pronounce, so he named him Dave. (For the uninitiated: The reference comes from the old British comedy series Only Fools and Horses – and yes, Azpilicueta has seen it since – in which Trigger, so named because he’s not the fastest, scolds almost every Dave for one simple reason: He doesn’t know or can’t remember their real names.

Then Dave. That’ll do it. A kind of ordinary man: stupid, simple, normal. Dave is everyone, everything. There, but not there. It’s easy to miss. Dave, who drives the van. Laying the stones. In the pub. He might as well have called it Block. Azpilicueta must have had enough – yes, sorry – and it’s been eight long years since he made a video explaining how to say Azpilicueta. What’s so hard about Cesar? But maybe something can be done about it.

This week, it seemed to me. It’s not that Dave wasn’t in Luis Enrique’s Spanish squad when it was announced on Wednesday, just as he wasn’t in the one before that, the one before that and the one before that; it’s that nobody had asked him to be there, nobody had even noticed him. It wasn’t his name they missed, it was the absence they felt. Two teams with Spanish captains participated in the draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Friday. Only one of them will report to Las Rozas on Monday.

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Sometimes it seems like Luis Enrique has called up all the Spanish strikers – Pedro Porro was the latest unexpected name, but not Aspilicueta.

It’s not a rant, it’s not even a call to engagement or a call to justice. This is not the most burning issue. Luis Enrique knows what he is doing, and he is not the only Spanish manager interested in Aspilicueta. There was a time when a generation of World Cups passed him by, when he was annoyed that he wasn’t getting more chances and moved from teammate to starter – and he played 25 times for Spain – but now everyone accepts it as if it was a long time ago. This is not a problem. And that’s actually the most important question of this week: Is that so?

There is no lobbying in Aspilicueta and there is no lobbying in Spain – although Luis Enrique has shown he is not easily swayed by such factors, but his side knocked out the leaders in La Liga on Wednesday night. In two games they haven’t conceded a goal (apart from the fact that he probably should have given a penalty). They didn’t miss a beat. И… Nothing. Limit it to the essentials and go: Azpilicueta is the captain of Chelsea. He started 26 games this season, kept the zero 20 times, and he’s not even a contender. Really?

It’s not even about the breeder, it’s about the character. It’s like everyone is turning into a Trigger. Asked if Azpilicueta missed, Nacho Monreal said: Yes, of course. You only have to look at his career to see what kind of player he is. He’s one of those players who doesn’t get talked about much, who doesn’t get the credit, but because of his work they do: Chelsea captain, 10 years at the club, one of Chelsea’s best defenders of late, in a perfect XI, playing at an incredible level. Everything he’s accomplished… you have to take your hat off to him.

Cesar Aspilicueta is an icon at Chelsea, why is he so neglected in Spain? Darren Walsh/Chelsea Team via Getty Images.

Now, Montreal could say that. He and Azpilicueta are friends who went through Osasuna’s training system together. And as soon as you start talking about undervalued players, they disappear. Sometimes it can go the other way. Undervalued is a new improvement, a hill to shout about. Often the idea that nobody talks about a player, that nobody recognizes him, is just not true. And Azpilicueta is recognized.

Try this:

  • Azpilicuetas’ team would win the Champions League.
  • It’s one of the best in the world. He’s a great guy, always positive. For a coach, having a coach is a dream come true.
  • His attitude, his daily commitment are the absolute reference for any young player. He is the embodiment of the club. He’s the one the fans watch and talk about: That’s what we think of Chelsea. That’s why he’s a captain.
  • He’s great. What a joy, what a gift to have such a captain. This is the key.

They are Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Frank Lampard and Thomas Tuchel. They are his managers at Chelsea, the ones who know him best, the ones who have counted on him the most. Then there was Barcelona’s attempt to contract him when Robert Fernandez was sporting director and Ernesto Valverde coach, men who saw him as Carles Puyol. He would have been talked about.

As for the first of those comments, Azpilicueta’s response was nice by the way: Maybe in the penalty shootout… he wouldn’t have scored many goals. Maybe not, but the boy would have put up a good fight. And while everyone knows this, it often seems like it’s not. What Aspilicueta has achieved is, of course, ignored in Spain. Nine years at Chelsea, remember? Nine years old. Chelsea. Where he’s the captain. If he is praised, it is for his reliability – a virtue that is sometimes a strange compliment, when it should not be. It’s as if this ruthlessness, this consistency, has become the norm for all players. As if being indestructible is easy.

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Here are the facts. Only nine people have played more games for the club, and by the end of the season that could be as few as seven. He was one of four players who played every minute on the championship team (Gary Pallister, Wes Brown and John Terry, in case you were wondering). From the start of the 2015-16 season to the end of the 2018-2019 season, he missed just two of 152 games. In 2019, no outfield player has played more minutes in any of the top five European leagues. Of the 38 league games he played in the last five seasons: 37, 38, 37, 38, 36.

This year, at 31, everything seemed a little different. And then there was nothing. Tuchel turned to him. His ankle is not in top form, but Azpilicueta was there every minute. When you have a boy who is so humble, who has so much quality, who is willing to give everything for the team, who has a gentleman mentality, who helps everyone on and off the pitch, who smiles every day at training, who is always ready – that is a gift for every manager and in my opinion for every team, Tuchel said.

There’s only one problem with these kinds of rules: Addiction can end up seeming harder than football. Chelsea have kept the zero 11 times in 13 games. This is no coincidence.

When the Chelsea captain looks to Aletico under Azzpilicueta on Wednesday, the last time they met in the round of 16 was in 2014, and things ended very differently then. Azpilicueta played that night and was defeated. Like Phillip Louis, who made what was considered his best game. He is probably the best left-back in Europe and was contracted by Chelsea in the summer, but that came to nothing, mainly because there was too much competition, as he himself admitted. And if Montreal had said what he said about Azpilicueta, Philippe Louis, bruised and justifiably bitter, would not have said it:

The truth is, he never gave me a chance to take my place, to take his place, Philip Louis said. He never gave me a reason to be the first. And that might be the biggest compliment.

Within a year, Philippe Louis had disappeared. For nearly a decade, he has stood in front of his teammates and sung the aptly named Estopa. When he arrived at Stamford Bridge, Philip Luiz had a problem that many players have had in 413 games: His name is Cesar Aspilicueta Tanco, but his name is Dave.

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