The resurgence of Marc Cucurella: Once booed by Chelsea fans, now ‘revelation of Euros’

Marc Cucurella – The resurgence of Marc Cucurella: Once booed by Chelsea fans, now 'revelation of Euros'
Marc Cucurella was one of Luis de la Fuente's big surprises for Euro 2024 - Getty Images/Matt McNulty

The golf course at Der Oeschberghof by the Black Forest in south-west Germany where Spain have based themselves at the Euros was the scene of an amusing bet this week.

On one of the holes, Alvaro Morata suggested a forfeit if Marc Cucurella missed his putt. “Sink it and I’ll sing in front of the squad,” Spain’s captain told the Chelsea defender. “Miss it and you have to sing.”

Cucurella accepted the challenge, duly flunked his putt and before too long found himself the subject of howls of laughter back at the team camp in Donaueschingen as he attempted a rendition of a song by a young lookalike fan called Adri Navarro that had previously gone viral on TikTok.

“Cucu cucu-rella, he eats paella, Cucu cucu-rella he drinks Estrella, Haaland trembles when he sees Cucu cucu-rella”. Chelsea fans would put their own spin on it, substituting the part about Haaland with the lyrics “his hair is f------ massive” to the tune of the 1950s hit La Bamba by Ritchie Valens.

“I don’t know how I got into this mess,” Cucurella said, chuckling, as he playfully relived the episode over the weekend.

When Cucurella returned to action in March after three months out following ankle injury, it is doubtful even he could have anticipated the sudden and dramatic career revival that has gathered such momentum that the left-back found himself being dubbed the “revelation of the Euros” in the wake of Spain’s dismantling of Italy last Thursday. After all, it was not too long ago that he was being booed by his own fans and ridiculed as a waste of money following an eye-catching £63 million move from Brighton, even if there was little awareness then of some of the personal struggles with which he was wrestling.

“I’m in a great moment,” a beaming Cucurella said after he and Nico Williams had ganged up to devastating effect down Italy’s right side in Gelsenkirchen to catapult Spain into the last 16 and leave the country wondering if a repeat of the heroics of 1964, 2008 or 2012 could be on the cards. Cucurella has even vowed to dye his famous locks red should they triumph in Berlin on July 14.

Nico Williams (L) Marc Cucurella (R) – The resurgence of Marc Cucurella: Once booed by Chelsea fans, now 'revelation of Euros'
Nico Williams (left) and Cucurella have given Spain the extra edge at this year's European Championship - Getty Images/Christopher Lee

With top spot in Group B already secured, it remains to be seen if Luis de la Fuente opts to rest his left-sided pair in their dead rubber against Albania in Dusseldorf on Monday night but Spain’s coach had nodded approvingly when it was suggested it felt like there had been “five Cucurellas” on the pitch against the competition’s defending champions. Defensively and offensively, he was superb and it was all the more impressive for being only Cucurella’s sixth appearance for his country.

Like their Spanish counterparts, Chelsea fans have been enjoying mocking up pictures of Brazil and Real Madrid’s legendary left back Roberto Carlos with Cucurella’s bushy black hair ever since. Even the Spain players’ own WhatsApp group has become something of a shrine to all the Cucurella memes, with the one of Carlos proving a particular favourite among the squad. “There are a lot of Cucurella memes going around lately,” midfielder Mikel Merino revealed. “Fabian [Ruiz] loves to send things like that. And [Martin] Zubimendi doesn’t stop with the stickers!”

Cucurella’s supporters also appear to be taking great delight in shoving poor Gary Neville’s pre-tournament assessment of the defender back down his throat. “I think he’s one of the reasons we think Spain probably can’t go all the way,” the former England full-back had suggested on ITV before La Roja’s opening 3-0 win over Croatia when Cucurella also impressed.

Time will tell how far Spain go but Cucurella has carried his club form with Chelsea over the final 14 games of last season into this tournament and the partnership with Athletic Bilbao’s speedy winger Williams has sparked particular excitement.

It has been some turnaround for a player who, before his late call-up to Spain’s squad for their March friendlies against Colombia and Brazil, had barely registered on the international front. Indeed, De la Fuente had yo-yoed between five different left backs on nine separate occasions over a 12-month period before starting Cucurella in the 3-3 friendly draw against Brazil, since when he has not looked back. But then his story is a triumph in the face of adversity and the luck that has come his way of late feels overdue for a player who has endured some tough times.

Marc Cucurella – The resurgence of Marc Cucurella: Once booed by Chelsea fans, now 'revelation of Euros'
Marc Cucurella joined Chelsea for £55m in the summer of 2022, not long after Clearlake Capital's takeover of the club - Getty Images/Adrian Dennis

One of Cucurella’s three children with partner Claudia Rodriguez has autism and he spoke publicly for the first time about it this week in an interview with Spanish sports newspaper AS when asked what advice he would have for parents of children with the condition.

“They [children with autism] are very special and contribute a lot,” Cucurella said. “It’s true that they need to find the ideal place to be and that is the most difficult thing. We didn’t find the ideal school at first and we took him to a regular school.

“They do not follow the same pace as other children, they do not learn in the same way and they can get frustrated. So I think finding the ideal school or the right type of therapy that supports their needs is amazing.

“We have found it in London and I think we have made a lot of progress. We are enjoying it a lot. They are special. They have their routines. They are amazing and, at least for us, it’s changed our lives and made us see the world in a different way because, in the end, it is more complicated than a child without those needs but when you achieve things it gives you great satisfaction.”

The international retirement of Jordi Alba combined with injuries to Valencia’s Jose Gaya and Alejandro Balde of Barcelona may have unexpectedly opened the door for Cucurella but he was probably due a break. As if the scrutiny that came with that huge fee was not pressure enough, Cucurella had to contend with manager Thomas Tuchel being sacked within weeks of him joining Chelsea and then being played out of position as a third centre-half under Graham Potter. One week in October of that first season proved particularly miserable, with Cucurella substituted at half-time at Aston Villa, and then after just 36 minutes against Manchester United. Things got so bad that he was even booed by Chelsea fans when introduced as a substitute for Ben Chilwell in a Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund in February last year. A bad illness did not help matters either.

Last season did not bring an immediate uplift. Indeed, he spent the first half of the campaign mostly being overlooked at left back for the centre-half, Levi Colwill, and then in December suffered an ankle injury that would put him out for months. Everything that could go wrong seemed to be doing. But something changed upon his return.

His international promotion aside, the real turning point can probably be traced back to an away game against Aston Villa in April when, with Chelsea trailing 2-0, Mauricio Pochettino asked Cucurella to step into midfield from left back when in possession and the tactical switch inspired a comeback to 2-2.

Cucurella would end up playing a key role in Chelsea’s late push for European qualification and Enzo Maresca, Pochettino’s successor at Stamford Bridge, certainly seems set to inherit a player in fine form and full of confidence. After so much flak, it is no wonder Cucurella was deeply moved by the “Cucu” chants that reverberated around the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen during the Italy game. “That in such an important match people chant your name is beautiful, special,” he said. “There are many years working, sweating and being in the shadows so that meant a lot.”

Manchester City had stepped away from negotiations for Cucurella in the summer 2022 after refusing to pay more than £40m, with the club’s executives politely joking with their Brighton counterparts that they would warmly congratulate them at the next Premier League board meeting if they succeeded in extracting a £50m plus fee from another suitor. Step forward Chelsea, who would go on to pay £56m plus a further £7m in add-ons.

“That price-tag, still, astounds everybody to this day,” Neville had said before the Croatia game and he had a point. But no one is giving it much thought now. “Cucu-rella, cucu-rella …”