After already crossing the Channel once this summer to sign Lille’s star midfielder Eden Hazard, Chelsea are strongly rumoured to be about to dip into the Ligue 1 talent pool again, this time to pick up the services of Marseille’s right back Cesar Azpilicueta.
The young defender, who will turn 23 later this month, arrived at the Stade Velodrome in the summer of 2010 in a deal worth around 7 million euros, bringing with him quite a pedigree for one so young, having represented Spain at every level up to and including Under-23, winning the European under-19 Championships, and having already amassed 99 appearances for Osasuna.
His early appearances for les Phocéens were less than auspicious however, his performances receiving criticism and his Champions League debut marked with an own goal to condemn OM to defeat against Spartak Moscow.
He quickly acclimatised to the demands of Ligue 1 and of Marseille’s demanding fans, though, and soon established himself as first choice right back, fitting the classic modern mould for a player of that position: strong, quick and reliable in defence but also willing and able to maraud up the field and deliver quality crosses. His ability to deliver a long throw was an added bonus.
Surely not entirely by chance, his finding of form coincided with Marseille’s move up the table. However, in Marseille’s win against Montpellier in late November 2010 which took them to the top of the Ligue 1 table, Azpi’s progress was cruelly curtailed by a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, which saw him miss the following six months of the season.
As for any player who has suffered such an injury, there were fears for whether the young Spaniard would be able to return to the same level of performance as prior to the injury. However, those fears proved unfounded. He returned for the final two games of the 2010/2011 season and then last year was a regular in Didier Deschamps’ first team, one of the few consistent performers in what was a disappointing season for the great club, and one of the starting line-up for the Coupe de le Ligue final win, a rare highlight on the Canebière.
On the international scene, Azpilicueta is still waiting for full international recognition, having made the long list for the successful 2010 World Cup squad but missing out on a place in the final 23. He did, however, make the 2012 Olympic squad, originally picked as captain, but in the event only taking to the field for the 0-0 draw against Morocco in what was a disappointing and short-lived campaign. Azpilicueta must hold high hopes of breaking into the Spanish national squad soon, in what is arguably La Roja’s weakest position, and he may see a high profile move to the Premier League and the reigning European champions (in what could be argued is their problem position too) as the most effective way to catch national coach Vicente del Bosque’s eye.
This summer has proved a rocky time for Marseille, with Deschamps quitting as head coach amid very public disagreements with sporting director Jose Anigo, to be replaced with Elie Baup. No headline players have been brought in and with chairman Vincent Labrune talking of the need to sell in order to raise funds to bring in new players, it may be that the sale of Azpilicueta, one of Marseille’s most valuable current assets, would be a move that suits all parties (except perhaps the die-hard Velodrome fans). Marseille may also see a sale to Chelsea as a chance to add a few extra euros to the fee, with OM looking to sell for around 10 million euros.
In the meantime, Azpi is being the model professional, not allowing the rumours surrounding his future to turn his head and has been the case with others, and he started for les Phocéens in their season-opening victory at Reims this weekend.
Whether or not it proves to be his last match in white and light blue, before moving to a slightly darker shade, remains to be seen. But the young Spaniard clearly has a bright future ahead of him, whichever side of the Channel that future happens to be.