Six and a half years after his arrival at Chelsea, defender Gary Cahill has found himself in a bit of a pickle. He’s fallen well down the pecking order among center backs, possibly all the way to the bottom — the only other central defender to not start a match so far this season has been 18-year-old Ethan Ampadu, but he at least got to play during preseason. Cahill didn’t even get to do that, on account of the World Cup and the associated extended holiday afterwards.
This of course isn’t the first time that Cahill has been written off and dropped from the first-choice XI, but this one seems to have an air of finality about it, and not just because his contract is expiring at the end of the season. He’s fought for and won back his spot under multiple managers, and in the process has won just about every trophy available to him, but Maurizio Sarri may be the one he finally can’t convince.
Cahill didn’t arrive as a starter in January 2012 but as a depth signing, yet he started the Champions League final barely three months after making his Chelsea debut (alongside David Luiz). He started the Europa League final a year later (alongside Branislav Ivanović). He played a key role in Mourinho’s league title in 2014-15 as part of a back four (alongside John Terry) and reinvented himself to do the same two years later in Conte’s back-three (alongside Azpilicueta and David Luiz). Cahill is now the longest-serving player at Chelsea and is closing in on 300 appearances; his partners in defense changed regularly, but he always worked his way back into the manager’s reckoning before.
But now, the end may be nigh. He’s understandably not too pleased with not playing and he’s made it clear that he’d want to leave in January if the situation doesn’t change. Barring injury, that doesn’t seem likely, even if he did replace Antonio Rüdiger after he picked up a knock over the weekend — it’s probably noteworthy that Andreas Christensen got the start midweek instead of Cahill.
On the one hand, this is the circle of life in football. Old stars fade away and are replaced by the young and the fresh and the new. On the other hand, football often purports to be more than just the cold hard business of sport. Certainly, striker Olivier Giroud, a fellow veteran who knows a thing or two about coping with bench minutes, hopes that some of those emotional ties will extend the existing relationship between player and club. Cahill’s influence does extend beyond just the pitch, however unquantifiable it may be.
“I think his heart is still in Chelsea and hopefully we will keep him because we need him. He needs to be happy, that is the main thing, but I hope he stays because he is important for us.
“He is a very good player. He’s been at Chelsea for six years, he is one of the faces of Chelsea and one of our captains. We need him.”
While Giroud understands and knows Cahill’s situation from his own personal experiences (especially at Arsenal), he also understands that the coach is making his own choices for what he believes are winning reasons as well.
“We have a lot of good players who can play in the starting XI. The problem is we have four-five centre backs and the coach made his choice.”
“Gary is not in a good position because it is quite tough for him, he doesn’t play so much. I understand that he wants to play more. At one stage I was the same and I didn’t like that. As players, we are happy when we are on the pitch.”
-Olivier Giroud; source: Evening Standard
With Antonio Rüdiger likely to miss today’s League Cup match against Liverpool, there is a chance Gary Cahill gets his first start of the season. Perhaps that will bring him (and hopefully us, too), at least a little bit of happiness as we slowly draw closed the curtains on his outstanding Chelsea career.