This week marks five years since Gary Cahill signed for Chelsea from Bolton Wanderers, and the defender has been reflecting with the club’s official website on an exciting and successful period.
Since moving to Stamford Bridge, Gary Cahill has won every major domestic and European trophy, been named in the PFA Team of the Season on two occasions and captained both club and country.
In our exclusive interview with the 31-year-old, Cahill looks back on his five years as a Chelsea player, discussing memorable moments, personal development and collective quality...
Let’s take you back to when you first signed for the club in January 2012. What do you remember about your first week here?
I remember coming to the stadium to watch a game, I think it was against Sunderland. You never quite know when transfers will go through but all of a sudden it was done and I was down at Stamford Bridge. I felt I was ready to make the move to a bigger club, and there aren’t many bigger clubs in the world than Chelsea.
It was fantastic, I just wanted to get going and meet the lads and I went into the dressing room after the game to see them. I stayed in a hotel for about six weeks while I found somewhere to live but that’s how it is for everyone when they sign, everything is new. I was just ready to get cracking and show everybody what I could do, it was a really exciting time for me.
You had to wait a few weeks before making your debut – how did you feel about that?
There were a couple of what looked like easier games on paper which I probably could have come in for, but when you come to a club like Chelsea you’re not just going to go straight into the team. The manager, who was Andre Villas-Boas at the time, wanted me to settle in and learn the style of play and tactics.
It’s hard to come in straight away and adapt. I think there may have been an injury and I was called upon to come in for the Man United game. It was a crazy match and ended 3-3, which isn’t ideal for a defender, but nevertheless it was a proud moment because it was my first game for Chelsea in a huge fixture.
Which is the most exciting game you’ve played in during the past five years?
I’d have to say the obvious one, the Champions League final. I was so looking forward to every game in the competition that I almost just rolled with it, and before I knew it we were in the later stages, which was amazing for someone who had just started playing Champions League football.
To play against Barcelona in the semi-final was crazy. The biggest game I’ve played was the Champions League final, and I’m sure everybody who was involved that night would say the same. To win the tournament for the first time in our history, especially after only signing a few months previously, was magical and I reflect on that night a lot, it’s such a great memory.
You faced a race against time to be fit for the Champions League final, but just how close was it? Was there ever a point where you felt you might not make it?
You never know because it was a hamstring injury, which I picked up in the second leg of the semi against Barcelona. The medical people have a certain timeframe that they hope it will be healed within. I’m not going to act the hero and say it wasn’t healed because it was, but only as long as there were no other complications. The treatment I had allowed me to be fit but it only gave me around a week’s training. It wasn’t long between when I came back to training and the game itself. It was tight and I couldn’t afford any blips, thankfully I didn’t have any and I was fit to play, but I was always going to risk it.
Is it hard to distinguish between winning the Champions League and Premier League in terms of achievement?
It’s difficult because most people would probably say they’d prefer to win the Champions League, but for somebody like myself who has plyed their trade in the Premier League for many years and watched it since I was a little kid, I realise how hard it is. The thought of winning it, when I first started kicking a ball around, was something I dreamed about, so it ranks really high for me.
Who has been your toughest opponent?
It’s very difficult to say, there are so many. I played against Lionel Messi in the Champions League and I’ve played against Cristiano Ronaldo in some pre-season friendlies, and just to be on the same pitch as those two is something special in itself because I think they are the best players on the planet right now.
Which has been your favourite goal during your time at the club?
I’ve been lucky enough to score quite a few in my career which, as a defender, I’m happy with. The best for me would be the volley against Tottenham in 2012 for a number of reasons. Obviously the rivalry between the two clubs is huge, the fact we went on to win the game and the goal itself. A lot of mine tend to be headers or what you might describe as poacher’s goals, so to score one that was a decent strike was nice.
Which victory has given you the most satisfaction?
The game which gave me most satisfaction was the League Cup final against Tottenham in 2015, but I only say that because certain things in football stick with you. Earlier that season we lost 5-3 away against them, which happens, you lose games. But for months after that match I was always having to answer questions about it in interviews. You would have thought we’d lost the Champions League final to them, I couldn’t believe so much fuss was made about one game. Sometimes in football you get an opportunity to quieten a few people down so it was very satisfying when we beat them at Wembley.
Which of your own individual performances has pleased you the most?
I was proud of my performance in the Champions League final because having come in as someone new to the competition, I felt I coped well on the biggest stage. I was also pleased with my display in the Europa League final. After Branislav Ivanovic scored, and we felt the game was dead and buried, I remember I had to make a late tackle which was very important. They’re big games, European finals, so to play well in them is very satisfying.
What has been the best team display during your time here?
The Everton game this season was a brilliant team performance and looking further back I remember beating Aston Villa 8-0 at the Bridge, which is almost unheard of in the Premier League. We beat Swansea 5-0 away the season we won the league, which was a great display. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a lot of good team performances but that Everton one was special. It wasn’t just the scoreline, or the way we played, it was the calibre of players we were up against, Everton are a very good side.
How have you changed/developed as a player over the last five years?
My reading of my game has become a lot better, which has come from being in the company of top-class players because I’m watching to see what they do. My decision-making has also improved. Naturally as you get older you become more experienced but I feel as though I can handle situations better, handle pressure better. The technical side of your game can improve the more you work on it but it’s hard to remain at a club like Chelsea for a long time if you can’t handle pressure. You see how many quality players come here, do a season or two and then go, so to stay here for a long time takes a lot. I’ve been here five years but when you look at the likes of Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry, they’re legends in football, not just at the club. You have to be a certain type of player mentally to be able to stay a club like this, where there is a lot of pressure.
Who has been the best trainer during your time at the club?
There have been a lot over the years. When I first came the likes of Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard were great trainers, JT as well. It’s not a fluke they’ve been at the top of the game for so long, it doesn’t just happen. They work very hard on a daily basis and you can see that, which I think is refreshing for younger players when they come in. It’s great seeing them score a goal or make a tackle at the weekend, but the work they put in on the training ground every day is huge. Recently, I’d say Cesar Azpilicueta because he just works hard all the time. He has that work ethic everybody should have. But over the years there have been loads here and that’s why we’ve had success, because we’ve had characters who are willing to work and improve.
Has anybody said anything particularly special or inspirational which has stuck with you?
There isn’t one particular phrase but I’ve had quite a few managers here and I try to listen to advice from everybody who has experience in the game, whether that’s players or coaches. Everybody has different ideas and everybody has a different opinion about football, so I just try to take bits from everyone and put them into my game. What’s nice is when you get a feeling from the manager that he trusts you and has confidence in your ability and character. That’s the best feeling because it allows you to just go out and express yourself on the pitch without worrying. As a player, that’s the biggest thing to have from a manager.
What is the best atmosphere you’ve played in here?
The European games at the Bridge are always unbelievable. The first leg of the Barcelona game in 2012, when we won 1-0, was great, so was the Napoli game because we had to turn the result around. Champions League nights are always exciting and you can tell the fans look forward to them.
Which players have you been closest to?
I’d probably say JT but there have been many over the years. Obviously I speak to the English players a lot and John’s been here all the way through with me. I remember him speaking to me before I even arrived at the training ground and taking his time to help me. I then played next to him and learnt a lot from him. Off the pitch we have a bit of banter and he’s a great guy.
If somebody had told you when you signed that within five years you would have won every honour available, what would you have said?
I would have snapped their arm off. It’s phenomenal when you think about it. It’s not just winning trophies, there are so many other reasons to feel proud. We held the Champions League and Europa League trophies at the same time for a while, and obviously this season we won 13 games in a row to set a new club record. Obviously winning trophies and being in the Team of the Year is fantastic. There have been ups and downs but that’s what football is about. To come from Bolton, I look at it is as being a very successful move and I want that to continue. I want more success and I want to continue to prove myself at the highest level, because I feel I’ve got a lot more to offer.