Desire, via www.chelseafc.com
A bloke in a pub once informed me that Gary Cahill is the best centre back England has. John Terry's past it, he said. Rio can't hack it. He didn't like the look of Lescott, he told me, and there wasn't even a mention of Messrs Caulker, Dawson and Jagielka. What we need, he exclaimed, throwing his beery head back so that all his fellow patrons might hear his wisdom, is the sort of player who has the lion-hearted passion to put his body on the line, and the skill and physical attributes to back it all up. Big Gazza Cahill, he almost sang, is that man.
Now I don't know about England, but the raw stats suggest that my new 'friend' might not have been that far off about Cahill when he's playing in Chelsea blue. Consider: the big lad from Sheffield made an average of 1.2 blocks per game last season. Compare that to, say, Nemanja Vidic's 0.8 or even David Luiz's 0.4, and tell me he doesn't have the desire the bloke was harping on about (stats from whoscored.com). Couple that with his propensity to pull off last-ditch, full-stretch, bottom-clenching tackles, and his case only gets stronger.
I mean, look at that. What's he done there? How has he even managed to do that? And does Branislav know what an inappropriate time that was to do roly-polies? Via 101greatgoals.com
AND then there's his towering, storming, smashing goals at the other, and..... well, I think it's time for some Cahill porn:
However, is he the "perfect defensor"? The darker sides to these glittering Hollywood moments are well-documented. The aforementioned blocking stats are doubtless inflated by his more than questionable positional play, as he often finds himself hauling ass to plug gaps – gaps which would simply not have existed if he had been standing in the right place at the right bloody time. The second leg against Basel sticks out most prominently in the memory of this Amateur Chelsea Scout as a game in which this tendency was most obvious: there seemed to be zero communication between himself and Ivanovic, and that was eventually punished by their goal late in the first half. But don't just take my word for it: in last season's 12 Cahill-less EPL games, Chelsea conceded just 6 goals, for an average of 0.5 a game. Compare that to our Cahill-full EPL games – 30 goals in 24 games, for an average of 1.25 (only starts included, stats from transfermarkt.co.uk). Furthermore, he played in 13 of our 16 defeats in all competitions. Something just doesn't add up.
So the question must be whether this is down to Cahill himself, and, then, whether he is good enough to play regularly for Chelsea. I propose to give my argument, before opening it up to discussion in the comments.
So here goes: in my book, the bloke in the pub was right, insofar as Gaz has the physical and mental attributes to perform at the highest level. You'll have to excuse the cliches for a minute, but he always gives 110%, and plays like he's proud to wear the shirt. In many ways, his physical presence and ability in the air make him a classic English centre back. His weaknesses become obvious, as we all well know, when he finds himself just a few metres away from where he should be. A pass might float over his head, or a winger might slip in behind him, perhaps, but suddenly, Gary finds himself having to cover a whole lot of ground to make up for it. Oftentimes, he does manage to get back in time, and he slides in to nick the ball away. But nevertheless, this tendency does create danger for the team – it exposes his goal and, against top opposition, this will be gleefully punished time and again.
On the other hand, Cahill is just coming into the best years of his career. Not only, at 27, is he at his peak, but, in entering into the hands of a certain Mr. Mourinho, it seems that the future is bright. Throughout his career, Jose has built his team around discipline and fight. From the sheer will power shown by Porto in 2004, to the miserly Chelsea defence of 2004-6, to Inter's nullifying of Barcelona in 2010, Mourinho has consistently moulded the players available to him to create a world-beating defence.
Gaz, as we have seen, possesses the fight, but is often guilty of lacking the discipline. However, as Chelsea becomes more of a pressure cooker environment as Mourinho inevitably provokes the media, the togetherness that has become the hallmark of his teams will only forge our back four to a unit. And, under Mourinho's guidance, Gary Cahill can be part of that unit. Whilst I am willing to revise that statement as the season wears on and I get to run the rule over him under the new management (whilst also bearing in mind, of course, that we might yet sign a new CB), my answer is yes, we should allow Cahill to start regularly. It is not my place here to evaluate him as a player relative to JT, DL4 or Ivanovic, however, and I shall have to leave that to my fellow ACSs over the coming days.