By Simon Evans
PORTO, Portugal (Reuters) - Chelsea were European champions when defender Cesar Azpilicueta joined them as a 22-year-old and nine years later he is hoping to captain the club back to that status with victory over Manchester City in Saturday's Champions League final.
The Spaniard was a relatively low-key signing when he joined for just under seven million pounds ($9.93 million) from Olympique de Marseille in August 2012, weeks after Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea beat Bayern Munich on penalties in the final.
But with 428 appearances for the London club to his name and having survived seven changes of manager, Spanish international defender Azpilicueta finds himself one game away from returning the club to the pinnacle of European football.
"Unfortunately I wasn't here in 2012. Personally, when I signed for Chelsea I wanted to repeat that. It has taken nine years and now we have this opportunity head of us that we want to take," he told the pre-final news conference.
"We have the mentality that we know we have to give everything on the pitch. We have a challenge ahead of us and we know we have to suffer for moments and we have to accept it. Of course it is the biggest game of the season and we are ready for it," he said.
Azpilicueta, who has featured recently at right wing-back and on the right side of a three-man central defence, clearly has a leadership role at the club.
"I am really proud (to lead the team out) but we want to win it. I hope I'm even prouder after the game. This is a massive opportunity, it took nine years to be back here," he added.
The one constant throughout the Spaniard's time at the club has been Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and the skipper said the Russian businessman had set the tone.
"Since I came here I have seen a real desire not just to win on the pitch but also with the work in the community, as we have seen in the last couple of months with the pandemic.
"He is the owner, he always showed the desire to make the club winners and try to get the best for the club".
($1 = 0.7047 pounds)
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)