When Gary Cahill was benched for the Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur matches, it looked like his season, and possibly his career, were cooked. When the team captain is 32 years old and doesn’t play in his club’s biggest games, it might be time to look for another employer.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the footballer’s boneyard. Andreas Christensen, still a tender 22 year-old, came down with a bad case of being over-played. He was making mistakes because he was physically and mentally exhausted from playing more matches (all of them high-stress, because this is Chelsea and winning is expected) than he’d ever played before in a season.
And so Antonio Conte dusted off Gary Cahill, re-inserted him in the lineup in a new position — centre centre-back — and he hasn’t looked back. After convincing displays against Burnley in the league and Southampton in the Cup, media interest in him perked up and he’s all over the papers this week.
Cahill took the opportunity to unburden himself of Thoughts. Thoughts on his demotion, for example.
“I’ve been fortunate to have played the majority of the time I’ve been at this club. I’ve enjoyed success and I feel like I’ve been a big part of success – not just involved in winning trophies but involved heavily.
”So I feel I can contribute when I’m out there. But it’s the manager’s decision.”
“Every time you come out of the team I know you don’t just disappear, you don’t just become a bad player overnight. Form, if you ride it out, means you come back to the level you should be at. I thought I played well against Southampton, did well against Burnley.
”I realise that’s the situation for everybody, I realise the manager has decisions to make and I realise maybe I’m not getting any younger – far from it. But I’m fit and ready to go.
-Gary Cahill; source: Goal
That’s a mature take, especially from a player who’s had to battle for his spot ever since coming over from Bolton Wanderers in 2012. And yet, all he’s done since is win almost every trophy available to him and in the process become one of the three active leaders in all-time appearances (278) at Chelsea alongside Eden Hazard (295) and César Azpilicueta (275).
“I don’t feel like I need to prove anything. I’ve proven it before, time and time again. It gets tiring after a bit, if I’m honest. Maybe that’s just football, maybe that’s just the way my past has gone, I don’t know.”
-Gary Cahill; source: Guardian
He has a right to be a little pouty. But he probably wouldn’t have the Captain’s armband if that were a permanent part of his makeup.
Cahill also had Thoughts on reaching the top four — comments that headline writers were all to happy to use to make him look defeatist, but which aren’t that at all.
“I am not being negative by any stretch, but the games are running out and the teams in there are very good, so if they do let it up it’ll be very, very surprising.
”There is that gap and the point difference, but the obvious thing is all we can do is win our games. We got a decent result at Burnley and we just need to keep winning.”
-Gary Cahill; source: Sky
He’s not wrong. The chances are remote that Tottenham will drop six points in their last four matches (the gap is five but pulling level with them won’t do it because they have the edge in goal differential). All Chelsea can do is keep this late season surge of form going, beat Liverpool at Stamford Bridge and hope for an, even by Spurs’ standard, extraordinary collapse.
Then there’s the matter of England’s (former) Brave Gary Cahill winning his way back into Gareth Southgate’s good graces and winging his way to Russia for a little summer football in the World Cup.
“I think the performances of late as well as the last couple of wins have been good for us. Everything is a possibility when you’re playing, hence why I am happy. I am back out there and let’s see what happens at the end of the season. We have gone into the final and the World Cup is coming, so let’s wait and see.”
And finally, Thoughts on the lone piece of hardware that is still within Chelsea’s grasp this season, the FA Cup. Antonio Conte wouldn’t be drawn on whether winning it would salvage Chelsea’s season. It probably wouldn’t, though Cahill, just as before, isn’t nearly as reticent.
“The league has not gone as expected. We realise the history says to win it back to back and keep winning the league season after season is very difficult. We have not managed to do that this year.
“So, if we did manage to win the FA Cup, it would somewhat rescue the season. There’s no point shying away from that. It’s a huge trophy.”
-Gary Cahill; source: Guardian
The (apocryphal) story goes that American satirist Mark Twain was visiting London when a newspaperman called from the homeland asking for a comment on a report that he had died. “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” the great man supposedly said.
That describes Gary Cahill’s career right now. Reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. The master of beating back challenges has just beaten back another one.