Posted on: Fri 30 Mar 2012

The fact Gary Cahill has developed his natural talent to a level where he is competing in the upper reaches of the Barclays Premier League, and has made his Champions League debut, is down in some measure to the work of an ex-Chelsea player.

Cahill is part of the squad looking to win three points against Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon, the club he joined as a 15-year-old having decided the option to leave his native South Yorkshire for the West Midlands was his best chance of becoming a professional footballer.

At the Villa academy he came under the wing of Tony McAndrew, the youth team coach there to this day.

McAndrew was a 1982 signing for Chelsea from Middlesbrough with then-manager John Neal bringing in a player he knew well as he attempted to improve the character of the Stamford Bridge dressing room.


Unfortunately the tough central defender/midfielder was hampered by a back injury during his time at the club and he was limited to 23 appearances before returning to Middlesbrough in 1984. However players from that side which restored Chelsea's top-flight status after five years away say his influence behind the scenes was sorely missed, including Pat Nevin who wrote the following in one of his columns on the official Chelsea website:

'The captain during the first season I played with Chelsea, Tony McAndrew, wasn't the flashiest of players, but the work he did was the type that allowed the more flamboyant players such as myself to express ourselves.

'More importantly than that was the effect he had on the ethos of the side. John Neal had made him skipper because he understood the respect he had from the rest of the squad, also for the fact that he always had the most supportive attitude, that he always valued the team before any individual including himself and he stamped out any negativity from the group.

'In the end many of the fans never really did take to Tony but when he left Chelsea the team lost a fine leader and one or two of the less positive role models took his place and the team suffered accordingly.'

That fits with Cahill's experience two decades later.

'Tony McAndrew had a great influence on my career,' recalls the England international.

'He is dead strict and he knows what he wants but as a coach he is top-class and as you get older and you have come through the other end of it, you look back and see how good he really was.

'Along with [Villa reserve coach] Kevin McDonald and [then Villa academy coach] Gordon Cowans, they had similar methods, they were old-school and harsh on the lads.

'We even went through a stage when there were no coloured boots allowed, but you respect that a lot when you come through the other side. They kept people grounded and concentrating solely on football.'

Players at Villa who were in Cahill's age group or were a year above or below were the club's current striker Gabriel Agbonlahor plus others who have since moved away like Craig Gardner, Luke Moore, Liam Ridgewell, Steven Davis and Jamie Ward.

'From that reserve team at the time, half are probably still playing which is rare,' says Cahill, 'and quite a few are in the Premier League. We won the Reserve League when I was there and we played in the final of the FA Youth Cup, and the year before me they won the Youth Cup.'

Cahill moved to Bolton in 2008 having made 31 appearances for the Villa first team.

'Villa Park is a ground I have good memories from but the whole feeling of going back to my old club has gone because I left so many years ago,' he says ahead of tomorrow's game. 'But it is good to return to see the coaches that had such an influence on my career. It is always nice to say hello.'