Before heading to Crystal Palace last summer, Cahill spent his prime years defending Chelsea’s honor on the battlefield of fate and football, and lifting several trophies in the process.
He left Stamford Bridge as club captain with eight titles on his CV, including the big one on that famous night in Munich in 2012. Cahill went from battling against relegation with Bolton Wanderers to starting and winning a Champions League final in the space of four months.
“It was a whirlwind. When someone like Chelsea comes in for you, you just go. You’re never quite sure to what degree is it a managerial or club decision. But I wasn’t too interested in that. I just wanted to be at a top club and grab hold of my chance.”
And grab that chance he did, reinventing himself multiple times during his 7.5 years at Chelsea, and playing key roles under multiple managers of rather different tactical and motivational persuasions.
One of the most notable changes he had to adapt to was the arrival of Antonio Conte, who introduced revolutionary ideas to the team’s tactics by switching to a three-man defense with wing-backs, and storming to a Premier League title in the process.
It’s an experience that Cahill looks back upon with extreme fondness, appreciative of the opportunities, knowledge, and confidence he got from Conte, just as he once did similarly from Mourinho.
“He was a great manager. Conte said, ‘Right, I’m changing this’. He knows that [three-man defence] formation inside out, and there was not one player on the pitch who did not know his role inside out. If you didn’t know it, you didn’t play.
“I played left of the three, whereas when we’d won the league with Jose [Mourinho], [Cesar Azpilicueta] was left back and I was right-sided centre back. Yet then Azpi went from left back to right-sided centre back and I went to the left-sided centre back.
“I spoke to Conte and he was adamant it would work. The Joses, the Contes. The attention to detail, the way they think. They never switch off. You have that confidence; an arrogance in a good way.”
But what came after Conte, Cahill looks back upon with significantly less fondness.
The 34-year-old has talked about the disappointments of his final season at the club many times before. He was ostracized by new manager Maurizio Sarri, and never given a proper chance to prove himself.
“We went to the 2018 World Cup, got to the semi-finals, so I missed pre-season, which I think was massive looking back now. He was very much into his tactics, probably too much, and I missed all of that.
“I was on the back foot. To be brutally honest, halfway through the season, the relationship was gone. I don’t think that was ever going to be recovered.
“It’s difficult to have respect for some of the things he did. But I have a lot of respect for the club, and for the players. As a big figure then, as captain, to go about things totally the wrong way, which I easily could have done, it’s not the way to do it.
“Was that easy? No. Was that one of the mentally toughest things to deal with? Especially because it went on for so long? One hundred per cent.
“The maddest thing is when you don’t play for whatever reason – if you’re out of form, or if you had a few bad games and someone is playing better than you – I know in my head that if you give me four or five games in a row, I’ll be back. I’ll take my chance.
“You know that in yourself because you’ve got that burning desire inside of you. Give me five games and you won’t get this shirt back. That’s an arrogance you have to have. The problem is he never gave me that.”
But the past is the past, and now Cahill only has eyes on for Palace.
As for his long-term future, he’s going to be starting on his coaching badges soon, and might consider trying his hand at a bit of punditry as well. We may not have seen the last of Gary Cahill yet!
“My thought process was to do my coaching badges and get them in the pocket – and I’ll start that next season – but I also want to have a look at TV. I want to see what I enjoy, and what I’m good at.”
-Gary Cahill; source: Mail
As during his career, Cahill will undoubtedly work hard and put in a solid effort at whatever he chooses to do. Good luck, EBGC!