For this instalment of Spaniards Abroad, I thought I would focus on two best friends that have found themselves in England’s capital this season after starting out at their hometown club Osasuna. The two in question, of course, are Chelsea right back Cesar Azpilicueta, and Arsenal’s new left back Ignacio “Nacho” Monreal.
Azpilicueta was born in Pamplona on August 28th, 1989, and joined his hometown club’s youth academy as a ten year old. After playing for the youth teams for eight years, he made his debut for the first team towards the end of the 2006-07 season, while he was still officially a ‘B’ team player.
Although he is now a right back, and an excellent one at that, he started out his youth career as a midfielder. After that debut, against Real Madrid at Estadio Bernabeu, he became a regular in 2007-08, due to injuries to first team players, and it was from then on that he would be known as a right back. He firmly established himself over the next couple of seasons, missing just sixteen La Liga matches in his three full seasons with the first team.
This consistency led to a big move to France, when he signed for Olympique de Marseille in June 2010, signing a four year contract in a transfer that could have eventually cost €9million. He endured a tough start in the south of France, scoring an own goal on his Champions League debut, and then rupturing anterior cruciate ligaments, an injury that carries with it a six month layoff. He came back stronger, and made a total of sixty eight appearances for Marseille, before European Champions Chelsea came calling in summer 2012. The deal that took Azpilicueta to West London cost £7million, which in my opinion represents excellent value. His career at Stamford Bridge didn’t really take off until the club sacked Roberto Di Matteo, and replaced him with Azpilicueta’s compatriot Rafael Benitez. Since then, he is a regular member of the team, and has made twenty appearances in all competitions for the Blues. With fellow Spaniards Mata, Torres and Romeu in the dressing room, not to mention a Spanish coach, he is sure to settle in quickly.
At international level, Azpilicueta has represented at every level from under-16 to the full senior side, making sixty appearances at the various age levels, including one appearance in the 2012 Olympic tournament. However, he only has one cap for the senior side, against Uruguay in their most recent match.
He is an all round modern wing back. Great at defending, and equally good going forward and putting crosses into the box, he has energy, pace and strength, and is sure to become a fans’ favourite this season and beyond.
Ignacio “Nacho” Monreal
Monreal is three years older than Azpilicueta, having been born on February 26th, 1986 (happy birthday for later in the month Nacho!), and joined Osasuna as a youngster. After being a virtual ever present for Osasuna B in 2005-06, he was promoted to the senior side for the following season, and made a total of nineteen appearances, including two in the Champions League and four in the Europa League.
It was the 2007-08 season, though, where he became a regular in the team, with Azpilicueta on the other flank. Over the next four seasons, he would go on to play 125 times for the Navarrese, with his last season at El Sadar being the 2010-11 campaign, where Osasuna finished a very credible ninth.
Moneybags Malaga came calling in June 2011, and he made the move to Andalucia on a five year deal for €6million. He soon established himself ahead of Eliseu as Malaga’s number one left back, missing just seven league matches as the club finished fourth, thus qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in their history. This season saw him start well, and he made twenty one appearances before he ended his eighteen month stay at La Rosaleda when he made an £8.5million move to North London club Arsenal. The deadline day transfer left some more uneducated Gunners thinking it was a panic buy after an injury to regular left back Kieran Gibbs. However, he had an impressive debut, and will be an excellent signing for Arsene Wenger in the coming seasons.
He is now a regular for the Spanish national team, having already played for the under-19 and under-21 teams. He made his senior international debut in 2009, but was not included in the World Cup 2010 squad, nor the Euro 2012 one, as Joan Capdevila and Jordi Alba kept him out. He has ten caps to his name, and with himself and Alba to choose from, Spain should be sorted at left back for quite some time.