And then there were 23. On Sunday, the England squad’s five missing members, the ones reporting late because they played in the FA Cup, finally joined their teammates at The FA’s St. George’s national football center in Burton-Upon-Trent. Their number included Gary Cahill (and four losers. Banter!)
On Monday, it was Cahill’s turn to be rolled out in front of the media cameras. And while the context of all of his comments is the England team, he provided another insight into what might have been his most challenging season since joining Chelsea in January of 2012. The nadir probably came in mid-February, when Chelsea’s captain found himself on the bench for two of our biggest matches of the season, against Manchester United and Manchester City.
Losing his place at his club promptly led to him losing his place on the national team squad for the March friendlies.
“I felt like my World Cup chances had taken a knock, missing out on that squad, especially that last squad just before you meet up was kind of a big squad to miss out on.
”I realised I really had to dig deep to try to perform from there until the end of the season to get myself back in the frame. Of course, last time I was disappointed, there was a lot going on in that time and I missed the squad. But I always had the belief that I could make the squad.”
It would take more than digging deep to change a course of events that seemed destined to end the 32 year-old’s Chelsea career. It would take exhaustion, followed by a series of mistakes, for Andreas Christensen to finally lose his place in the middle.
That was providence. What followed was hard work, for Cahill seized on the opportunity to play in a somewhat unfamiliar role and he helped settle Chelsea’s backline.
“First and foremost, I needed to get my place at Chelsea. We had a huge end to the season with the cup final.
”If I’m totally honest that was all that was in my head, and I knew that if I performed well I’d be in with a shout, just like the rest of the boys who were competing for 23 places. If you’re not out there on the pitch, you can’t influence anything, and I know I’m capable of influencing it when I’m playing.”
Just as he has every time coaches asked Gary Cahill why he should be given a place on Chelsea’s team, he gave a convincing answer. It was he, and not AC, who started for the FA Cup. It was he who had the honor of hoisting the trophy for the second time in his career.
Next up for Cahill is the World Cup. Then, yet again, he comes back to an uncertain future at Chelsea. But in a demonstration of the attitude that has served Cahill well in his career, he refused to be bitter about the coach who almost took it all away from him this season. He had nothing but kind words for Antonio Conte.
“It’s been a strange season, obviously there’s been a lot of speculation for however many months now. The season has finished on a high for us, we won a major trophy so that was a great end for everybody: for the fans, for the players and for the staff. What will be this summer, will be.
”He’s been good for me, I’ve taken things from him, like I have the rest of the managers. I’ve enjoyed the success we’ve had together. He’s been great.”
-Gary Cahill; source: AFP
Character. It defines Cahill. Looming in his future is a new coach, one who seems to prefer ball-carrying center-backs. That’s not Cahill’s most obvious quality. But it wouldn’t do to write him off just yet. He has a way of upsetting expectations.
Cahill had many more comments about the opportunity ahead for England. You can listen to his entire press session in this video.