Antonio Conte's clever £9m Chelsea verdict offers Tuchel alternative John Terry solution


When you think about what word best describes Cesar Azpilicueta, rugged fits the bill. Although it may not be the most glamourous or flattering, it summarises the unrelenting spirit and determination of the Spaniard.

The 32-year-old's display at Lille on Wednesday night felt like it completed the "Peak Azpilicueta" checklist. Tenacious defending? Check. Smartly running the ball out of play? Check. Berating the referee liberally? Check. Emerging at the back post to score a timely goal? Check.

Azpilicueta's kneed finish to seal Chelsea's spot in the last eight of the Champions League showed why the captain's presence has become a staple of the club's best performances over the past decade. With such turbulence off the pitch, Thomas Tuchel's skipper is helping to maintain normality on it, provoking a question about his future.

There is a growing expectation that this will be the club legend's final season in west London. And even with the overwhelming uncertainty looming over the future of Chelsea under new ownership, the story of Azpilicueta at Chelsea is pretty complete.

Achieving the grand slam of silverware in Abu Dhabi back in February at the Club World Cup, again using his unrivalled nous to pretend he was going to take the decisive penalty in extra-time, attracting attention from Palmeiras players before handing the ball over to the actual taker, Kai Havertz.

But it is in these smaller moments where the wider influence and strength of the wise defender is revealed. Similarly to how replacing Antonio Rudiger in the transfer window feels like a steep task, replicating the longevity and statesman-like demeanour of Azpilicueta wearing the armband feels impossible.

One example in the past that has made me reassess my stance that this should be Azpilicueta's final season is the 2016 extension of John Terry's contract for one more year.

In a similar fashion to this season's concern, the clock on Terry's deal was counting down rapidly. In February of that season, there was a belief that he would be off with Marina Granovskaia's firm negotiating with players over the age of 30.

However, Terry would finally be pictured smiling at Cobham, pen in hand and confirmation he would remain. That summer, Antonio Conte would arrive, and during his highly successful first season, Terry became a sporadic figure.

He has placed behind the leading defensive trio of Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill as Chelsea claimed another Premier League title.

 Even though Terry's final season was spent mainly off the pitch, his presence was probably invaluable and allowed the two vice-captains, Azpilicueta and Cahill, to get accustomed to their roles when Terry would eventually give an emotional farewell to Stamford Bridge.

With such chaos and concern amongst everyone connected to the club at the current point, Tuchel's trust in Azpilicueta might prove beneficial for one more season even if he is phased out.

 The sticking point has always appeared to be the player's demand for a longer deal and belief that he can still be a first-team player at a top European club. Barcelona would offer that for him, with the addition of a longer deal heading into his final years.

Chelsea doesn't know what transfer deals they will be able to do this summer with the Government sanctions on Roman Abramovich, the turmoil of the ownership structure and how many of the current hierarchy will remain post-Abramovich.

Azpilicueta's deal expires on the 30th of June, and there has always been a clause to extend it by 12 months due to appearances made, but the current sanctions could forbid even that.

Chelsea's future no longer feels predictable nor ordinary. Maintaining a trusted head like Azpilicueta might now prove more attractive than it did a month ago when he was lifting another trophy.

Post a Comment