Roman Abramovich tradition may force next Chelsea owner to repeat tough Didier Drogba decision
Chelsea’s next owners will face several difficult decisions after purchasing the club from Roman Abramovich, and one of them will be over the future of club captain Cesar Azpilicueta
It was shortly after the 2012 Champions League final that Didier Drogba confirmed he would be leaving Chelsea on a free transfer. The club did not attempt to stand in the Ivorian’s way. Given the heroics the striker produced in Munich, he was allowed to depart on his own terms, after the biggest of highs.
“I wanted to put an end to all the speculation and confirm that I am leaving Chelsea. It has been a very difficult decision for me to make, but I am very proud of what we have achieved,” the striker said.
“He feels the time is right for a new challenge,” then chief executive, Ron Gourlay, added. “We have known for some time that this outcome was likely but Didier and the club only made a final decision on that in the last couple of days, because for obvious reasons neither Didier nor the club wanted to distract focus away from the Champions League final.
“The talks were amicable all the way through and we wish him all the best for the future. He will be welcome back to Stamford Bridge at any time – either as a player or as a guest of ours.”
That Chelsea didn’t attempt to convince Drogba to stay was a sign of respect for all he had achieved at Stamford Bridge. Three years later, this was repeated as Roman Abramovich gave his blessing for Petr Cech – perhaps the greatest goalkeeper to have played for the club – to move to London rivals Arsenal in a deal worth £10million.
“Life doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will,” Cech wrote in an open letter to the Chelsea fans. “I thought this would never happen but it is time for me to say goodbye to Chelsea – the club in which I thought I’d hang my gloves and boots one day and finish my career.
“I am not at the stage of my career where I want to be on the bench. That is why I spoke to Mr. Abramovich about me staying in the Premier League and I’d like to thank him from the bottom of my heart for his support.”
Many felt this Abramovich tradition would be repeated this summer. That another club legend would be allowed to depart on his own terms. That legend is Cesar Azpilicueta, who is coming to the end of his tenth season at Stamford Bridge, the last three of which have been spent as club captain.
Azpilicueta’s status as a Chelsea great is cemented. He is the only man to have won it all with the Blues. More impressive is that he has done so playing in a variety of positions: right-back to left-back, right wing-back to right centre-back. There were even a couple of games in which he was deployed as a winger by Jose Mourinho.
The 32-year-old is the consummate professional and model captain. No controversies. No drama. “As soon as I arrived at Chelsea, Azpilicueta was one of the first to write to me wishing me good luck in this new chapter,” Blues defender Thiago Silva revealed in an interview with Chelsea’s in-house media team.
“He is a spectacular guy, a super professional who undoubtedly deserves to be where he is and wear the armband, which means so much to him. There are different types of captains: there are those who talk more, and others who are quieter but mean a lot to the team.
“Azpilicueta has both aspects: he is very important on the field, and outside he brings the team together when necessary to talk about what is necessary and to make things clear so they don’t go wrong.”
Like Drogba and Cech before him, it was anticipated Azpilicueta would decide his own fate this summer. Barcelona have shown strong interest in bringing him to the Camp Nou as part of Xavi’s rebuild, but the Blues skipper has remained coy as to what’s next. “What we have learned with the pandemic is to live day-to-day and in the moment,” he said last week while on international duty.
Such an approach is wise, especially as Azpilicueta is no longer in control of what happens next. football.london understands – and as first reported by Mundo Deportivo – that the Spaniard recently triggered an appearance-based clause in his Chelsea contract and is now tied to the Blues until 2023.
Of course, that is no guarantee Azpilicueta remains at Stamford Bridge beyond this summer. But the decision as to whether he leaves – and almost certainly for a minimal fee – will likely be down to the next owners of the club. Not Abramovich. And that will be a tough decision for whoever has bought the club as there are few players as dependable amid uncertainty as the Spaniard. He has proved that time and time again over the years, just as Drogba and Cech did before him.