Courteous captaincy for Cahill
Photo: Vespa125125CFC, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Club captain. Pitch captain. The role is less defined than it used to be with the advent of captains completely excluded from the matchday squad. it reduces their importance. Gary Cahill is the Chelsea captain, despite being a cameo performer.
Cahill hasn’t done badly for himself. A small border town on the Yorkshire-East Midlands crux, Dronfield, produced not only a Chelsea defender but an England defender and a Champions League winner.
Now in his sixth year at Chelsea, he’s working with his seventh full-time manager, eight if you add Steve Holland, who was caretaker for two days. Managerial turnover created instability in his career, but barring injury, he’d usually be in and around the starting eleven as Chelsea enterprises closed down on seven different titles in the space of Cahill’s time at the club. He notably started the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in which the pensioners lifted the trophy.
As the pendulum marked time, Chelsea's coaching graveyard swelled in size. Each passing era paid homage to Gary, but now the bell tolls for him. He’s no longer respected as the best defender at Stamford Bridge. Conte experimented with the captain’s armband as early as 2016. When John Terry was riddled with injury, Cahill who took his place on an interim basis. When Terry switched his London digs for the urban metropolis which is the West Midlands, it was Cahill who assumed captaincy permanently.
Just last week he was re-confirmed as the captain for the coming season. Indeed, Maurizio Sarri and the player confirmed he would serve as the club captain although there were several caveats in play. Sarri stated that, given Cahill isn’t involved in the first team right now, Cesar Azpilicueta will continue to serve as on-pitch captain when Cahill isn’t playing. This was more a nod to the Spaniard than recognition appertaining to the 32-year-old centreback.
In his announcement, the Italian manager also went on to say he was uncertain whether the player would see out the entirety of the campaign as a Chelsea player.
Was it a backhanded compliment? Naming him captain but effectively reducing him to the second string? Cahill only starts games in the Europa League and League Cup. Otherwise, he’s claimed a lone 21-minute substitute appearance in the Premier League. Inactivity doesn't befit a leader.
Cahill is a popular figure amongst the Chelsea ranks. A new manager, Sarri may have felt obligated to respect that, not to rock the boat or dishonour his legacy even if he isn’t getting the game time.
A minor knock delayed his season for the opening weeks, but given he was declared fit in mid-September, Chelsea supporters initially expected to see more of their man. Last year, he made 24 starts, 36 in Chelsea's 2016/17 title season.
He’s been such an iconic and commanding figure, it’s unusual to see his Chelsea career to end so abruptly with Sarri’s emergence. Cahill’s legend isn't an Olympian tale like John Terry's John Terry, yet he may follow a similar post-Stamford Bridge route. Having been so successful and popular at the club, he wouldn’t want to play in direct competition with them.
Why not go to Aston Villa? He’s been there before and could win a friendly wager over Terry should he complete the mission of taking them to the Premier League.
That said, another former team needs his help more. Bolton is in the Championship's lower reaches, on the cusp of relegation in 20th. He could help the Wanderers find their way if he’s willing to take the wage cut.
First, he must say his goodbyes and it may not be so straightforward despite Sarri marginalising Cahill's role. Chelsea isn’t exactly steeped with experienced defenders. Fixture congestion, injuries and suspensions could easily swing the pendulum back in Cahill’s favour. He may have no option other than to sit and wait his turn, with the armband or not.