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Feature: Undervalued Gary Cahill should be considered a Chelsea legend

Feature: Undervalued Gary Cahill should be considered a Chelsea legend

24/12/2018 at 09:26Updated 24/12/2018 at 10:36

This January could bring a few goodbyes at Chelsea, writes Dan Levene. And, among them is likely be one of the most decorated players in the club's history.

It was a slightly overcast, yet mild January day in 2012, when I headed down to Cobham to meet Chelsea's new centre half.

On the face of it, a stopgap signing: the unveiling of whom seemed so insignificant, I very nearly passed it up for the dull, administrative agenda of a Chelsea Pitch Owners meeting the same day.

Nobody seemed too bothered about Gary Cahill joining Chelsea.

Not even, truth be told, the manager.

Andre Villas-Boas (for it was he) didn't really want him: his preferred target, to replace the marginalised Brazilian defender Alex, had been Stoke's Ryan Shawcross.

Gary Cahill

Gary CahillGetty Images

Even by Villas-Boas' famously questionable judgement, this was a stinker of a pitch.

He was overruled by Chelsea's board (another footballing victory for then Technical Director Michael Emenalo, whose strike rate in successful transfer dealings is very much missed right now).

Shawcross would go on to spend the rest of his career with Stoke City: making just the one England appearance – during which Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick, ensuring he was never recalled.

Cahill won 61 caps, and would go on to captain his country.

But it was the difference Cahill made to Chelsea that would single him out as one of the most vital players of the Roman Abramovich era.

Mention his name on social media these days, and you are likely to receive a barrage of disdain (and not a little abuse), from those who see him as 'not good enough for Chelsea'.

What short memories some people have (or perhaps they just weren't conscious of the club, or game, for the majority of his tenure with Chelsea).

Cahill had been known as strong and steady during his time at Bolton.

Back then, he was the focus of some Chelsea fans' consternation because he wasn't John Terry.

Now – and this says much about the unreasonable expectations the pack on Twitter – he receives such disdain for not being Sergio Ramos.

Gary Cahill was just Gary Cahill: and Chelsea, over the years, has been a better place because of that.

Chelsea's Gary Cahill celebrates after winning the Premier League

Chelsea's Gary Cahill celebrates after winning the Premier League Reuters

In late 2011, things weren't looking good for him at the Reebok Stadium.

In January he was staring relegation in the face. By May, with Chelsea, Cahill was a Champion of Europe.

He had a remarkable ability to raise his game to pretty much any level that was required.

I was party to one of those 'what if?' discussions, recently, which focused on Terry's red card in Camp Nou, in the penultimate stage of that glorious campaign.

As with the Shawcross thing: it is impossible to say how things might have turned out, had Cahill been elsewhere for the final.

But, like every other man on the pitch in Munich, his presence was immense.

The unfashionable Yorkshireman would rise to the very top at Stamford Bridge: taking the armband when mentor, teammate, friend Terry moved on.

Around the same time, the game did move on too: and he has been mostly a spectator of late.

The coming transfer window looks certain to see him leave Chelsea: with a move down the road to Fulham looking a good shout.

Having missed an opportunity to say goodbye during defeat to Leicester (he remained on Maurizio Sarri's bench throughout), many will hope to see him one last time during the FA Cup visit of Nottingham Forest, on the first Saturday of 2019.

In his seven years with the club, Cahill became one of the few men in English football to win it all: two Premier League medals; two FA Cups (though, he didn't play in the 2012 final); a League Cup; a Europa League; and that Champions League.

But he also impressed his personality on to Chelsea: a really sound guy, who would almost always talk, openly and engagingly to reporters when approached.

With all of the hindsight you like: Chelsea made a great call in 2012, in taking that 26-year-old off Bolton's hands.

Thanks, Gary, and good luck.