It had long been expected that Marseille would have to sell before they could buy players this summer. Gone are the days of marquee signings such a Lucho Gonzalez, Loic Remy and even Andre-Pierre Gignac in terms of the fee he commanded. Despite a poor showing in Ligue 1 last season, Marseille managed a relatively successful Champions League run and qualified for the Europa League via their 3rd successive domestic cup win. As a result, as seems to be the case with any club without superior spending capabilities, every ‘prize asset’ Marseille have, has been linked with a move away, most specifically Loic Remy, the Ayew brothers, Nicolas Nkoulou and Cesar Azpilicueta.
Chelsea had reportedly been interested in Spanish Youth International, Azpilicueta for a while and had tabled offers that the OM hierarchy had so far rebuffed. However, it is well known that if a Chelsea want a player they generally get them (Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill and seemingly Victor Moses now too in recent times). So it is no surprise that the deal has reportedly went through this morning. What does it mean for Chelsea, Marseille and ultimately the player concerned, 22 year old right-back, Cesar Azpilicueta?
Chelsea have made a formidable start to the Premiership season. Before the season began, their transfer dealings already showed their intent, they expect to build on the Champions League victory of last season, with another sustained European campaign, and become a great deal closer in chasing both Manchester clubs for the Premiership title. As with most top clubs, managers want competition for places and Chelsea have that in abundance throughout most of their squad. Azpi will certainly offer Branislav Ivanovic some competition in the right-back birth, in fact he may even have been a preferred starter had the Serbian international not has such an excellent start to the season.
Azpilicueta has come a long way in the 2 years since he signed from Osasuna ahead of the 2010/2011 campaign. During his first season with Marseille he missed six months of the season after rupturing his Anterior Cruciate Ligaments in his left knee. After making a full recovery he played 41 games last season even managing to score once, in the final minutes of the penultimate game of the season against Auxerre. Azpi’s season started poorly in terms of performances. He started as a player with little confidence, some of which may have been overcoming the mental trauma of his injury and being prepared to make the important tackles again without fear of injury. Azpi’s apparent lack of confidence early last season meant that he was often targeted as a ‘weak point’ in the OM team, along with left-back Jeremy Morel, his desire to attack and support Morgan Amalfitano and Mathieu Valbuena often meant he was left out of position as other teams counter-attacked.
However, as the season progressed, so did Azpi. He began to utilise his low centre of gravity and use this to his advantage when tackling players and also when taking them on in attacks. Using his pace more sparingly and effectively improved his attacking contributions and defensive performances and all-round fitness levels. Over the course of the season he developed an understanding with right-midfielder, Amalfitano, where they could support each other and help bring out the best in one another. Amalfitano is not the quickest player in Ligue 1, so after beating a defender he often likes to cross the ball early, from a deeper position. Azpi’s pace and attacking nous helped vary Marseille attacks by overlapping and delivering good crosses for a central target man. In return, Amalfitano, began to support Azpilicueta more frequently by tracking back and sharing some of the defensive responsibility of the right hand side.
Since Azpi has signed for Chelsea, this defensive support is something that Roberto Di Matteo will have to consider. Will someone like Ramires or even Hazard be willing to support defensively? Will they be willing to sacrifice a little part of their own game in order to help bring out the best in a team-mate? Does the right-midfielder need the support of an attacking right-back to overlap and provide crosses regularly throughout a game, or would they rather do it themselves?
As with any new signing for a club there are huge implications for all parties. For Azpilicueta a move to Chelsea could be a huge gamble. On the plus side he is joining the European Champions, a team demonstrating real a monetary desire to compete at the highest levels domestically and internationally. On the possible negative side, will he be guaranteed first team action? Will he move from first choice defender to become simply a bench-warmer? As Azpi, just seemed to be developing his confidence, perhaps this could knock his fragile confidence and he may not fulfil his potential at Chelsea.
What position does this leave Marseille in too? Having been open to offers for almost any senior player, the board have surprisingly held back from selling players so far, but this has meant that new manager Elie Baup has been unable to significantly invest in new players. On the face of it, selling one of your team’s most consistent and improved players from last season would appear rather amateurish. However, Marseille do already have a solid defender in Rod Fanni who is more than comfortable playing on the right or in the centre of defence. Fanni can also attack just as well as Azpilicueta, although his defensive frailties are often exposed as were Azpi’s when he first signed. Immediate cover for the loss of Azpi is not a huge concern for OM, the problem comes if Fanni were to become injured and with reinvestment of the money. Marseille, unlike other big spending clubs, may feel their money could be best spent in France. This means that they may have to look lower down in Ligue 1 or possibly Ligue 2. Many Marseille fans fear that this option leaves them open to signing a Jeremy Morel v2. Morel was signed from FC Lorient, and it would be fair to say that he hasn’t yet lived up to his potential, nor has he started to really improve as Azpilicueta did. Poor investment would leave Marseille, who have made an excellent start to the season, with vulnerable right and left flanks, something that was exposed countless times last season.
A move and suitable funds could benefit all parties concerned, Azpilicueta himself admitted he would be open to a move if it would help OM financially. Chelsea will benefit from a fast improving attacking right sided defender who can support their already attacking team and style of football. Azpilicueta has joined a club that will reach heights of success, that OM look unlikely to achieve in the next few seasons. If he is bedded in during his first season, playing in League Cup FA Cup and perhaps the odd Champions League game, he could build his confidence and ensure that if he were to become a regular starter he would be more than ready and capable of stepping up and delivering, becoming a mainstay in one of the best sides in Europe.
Can we take this opportunity to say ‘Merci’ to Azpilicueta from MarseilleUK.