With the end of the season comes the end of Gary Cahill’s momentous Chelsea career. Our central defender and recently our club captain, who has reached the end of his contract, penned a message to Blues supporter in the matchday programme last month. You can read that again here.
When Gary Cahill signed for Chelsea from Bolton Wanderers seven-and-a-half years ago, few could have predicted the impact he would go on to have over the course of his time at Stamford Bridge.
Cahill arrived as a very good Premier League defender. He departs as a Chelsea legend and club captain, having been an integral member of a side which won a host of honours both domestically and on the European stage, including two Premier League titles and the Champions League.
The imposing Yorkshire man will be most remembered for the role he played in those trophy successes. He was a near ever-present on both occasions he won the Premier League, first alongside John Terry in 2014/15, and then on the left of a back three having had to alter his game in 2016/17. Each time, Cahill was rewarded for the overall quality of his performances by being named in the PFA Team of the Season, an honour he achieved on three separate occasions during his time at the club.
Of course, no Chelsea supporter will ever forget the part he played on the club’s greatest night when we were crowned European champions in 2012.
Having picked up an injury in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona, there was a real chance he would not make the ultimate showpiece fixture, but with Terry and Branislav Ivanovic suspended both Cahill and David Luiz were asked to play through the pain barrier for what proved, as they must have been dreading given some much training missed in the preceding weeks, the maximum 120 minutes.
Cahill played his full part in standing up to wave after wave of Bayern Munich pressure as we defied the odds to overcome the Germans on penalties in their own stadium.
Fast forwarding from that initial triumph, Cahill was appointed club captain in 2017 following Terry’s departure, a decision which went down well with both fans and team-mates alike. Consistent and reliable whenever called upon, it was a huge honour for a man who had never let us down.
Looking at his seven-plus years in more detail, he needed to be patient during his early days at the club. An unused sub for his first few matches, he was then thrown in at the deep end when handed a start in a big home game against Manchester United alongside David Luiz. The result, ultimately, was disappointing, as we surrendered a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3, but on a personal note Cahill had performed well in difficult circumstances.
Following the departure of coach Andre Villas-Boas soon after, Cahill then started the first two matches under Roberto Di Matteo before scoring the first of his 25 Chelsea goals when he headed home the opener in an FA Cup quarter-final win over Leicester, before adding a maiden Premier League strike three days later away at Manchester City.
Cahill endeared himself to the Chelsea faithful further when a goal-line clearance prevented Emmanuel Adebayor from scoring a winner for Tottenham at the Bridge, but his stand-out performance during his first season at the club was undoubtedly in the first leg of our Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.
Partnering Terry in central defence, the duo were simply outstanding in the face of extreme pressure from the revered Spanish side. Blocks and last-ditch tackles, coupled with pure desire and determination, saw us over the line as Didier Drogba’s first-half goal proved decisive on the night.
An injury picked up in the return leg at the Camp Nou ruled Cahill out of the closing weeks of the campaign, which included a victorious FA Cup final against Liverpool, but crucially he was passed fit to play in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich two weeks later.
With the squad depleted due to a combination of injuries and suspensions, the presence of Cahill and David Luiz, who had also passed a late fitness test, was a huge boost ahead of the biggest game in the club’s history. Despite the fact both players weren’t at their peak physically, they emerged from the contest with immense credit having stood up to everything the Germans threw at them over the course of the 120 minutes.
Having only joined the club four months previously, Cahill had ended his first season at Stamford Bridge by helping us win two major trophies, and a year later his medal collection was bolstered further when we lifted the Europa League trophy courtesy of a 2-1 win over Benfica, the defender making a pivotal block in the dying seconds to prevent the Portuguese side from forcing extra-time.
Perhaps the most memorable of all his Chelsea goals had arrived earlier that season when he fired home a stunning volley to give us the lead in a 4-2 win at Tottenham.
Jose Mourinho returned to the club ahead of the 2013/14 campaign and Cahill thrived under the guidance of the Portuguese, forming a solid partnership with Terry at the heart of the back four. That season we boasted the best defensive record in the Premier League and Cahill, who also netted a crucial goal against Galatasaray in a Champions League run which ended at the semi-final stage, was named in the PFA Team of the Season for the first time in his career. The defensive resilience had always been there, not least his uncanny ability to be in the right place to throw himself bravely in front of opposition shot, but his use of the ball and ability to thread passes down the channels had improved steadily and significantly.
His partnership with Terry remained in place throughout 2014/15, only this time with greater results. The defender featured in 36 of our 38 Premier League matches and played an integral role as we were crowned champions, the Blues finishing eight points ahead of our closest challengers Manchester City.
For the second year in a row we conceded the fewest number of goals and it had taken until December, at Newcastle, for the team to experience defeat in the league. Cahill’s first goal of the campaign was the leveller in a big 2-1 victory away at Liverpool, and he was superb as we nullified the attacking threat of Harry Kane and Tottenham in the League Cup final at Wembley. Mourinho’s men ran out 2-0 winners to secure the first of two trophies that season.
Rewarded for the consistency of his performances, Cahill was voted into the Premier League’s Team of the Season once more, and deservedly so.
While his footballing ability has always been evident, his qualities away from the field of play also stand out. Friendly, humorous and always happy to help, Cahill is as genuine a person as you are ever likely to meet. He has always led by example.
He signed a new long-term contract at the club in December 2015, and while the season as a whole was one of disappointment for the team, it was Cahill’s goal which sparked the dramatic comeback in a 2-2 draw against Tottenham at the Bridge, preserving our unbeaten home record against the north London side and famously handing the title to Leicester rather than our London rivals.
Antonio Conte took charge in 2016 and although he played with a familiar four-man defensive unit in the early weeks of the campaign, a defeat at Arsenal led to a tactical switch. The Italian implemented a 3-4-3 system, with Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta deployed either side of the central figure, David Luiz, and it was a move which would pay huge dividends.
The new-look formation was in place from the start of a game for the first time away at Hull, and the 2-0 victory on Humberside was the first of 13 consecutive Premier League wins, a run of results which propelled us to the top of the table. The Blues went six league games without conceding a goal during October and November and, as ever, Cahill continued to prove his worth at the opposite end of the pitch, scoring our second in a memorable 4-0 win over Manchester United.
With Terry unable to force his way into the side, Cahill took the armband for the majority of the campaign and it seemed a natural fit. An intelligent and experienced figure, the defender was outstanding during the second half of the season.
His most important goal of the season arrived in the last seconds away at Stoke in March. With the game level at 1-1, Cahill reacted quickest to pounce on a loose ball inside the box and score a last-gasp winner at a crucial point in the campaign.
Goals continued to come as we closed in on the title. He powered home a brilliant header in a 4-2 win over Southampton before scoring the second of our three goals away at Everton.
The title was secured courtesy of a 1-0 win at West Bromwich Albion, with Cahill and the defensive unit which had served us so well over the course of the campaign fittingly keeping a clean sheet on a Friday night at the Hawthorns.
A week later, Cahill and Terry held the trophy aloft together following our final game of the season, and the defender ended an unforgettable campaign being named in the PFA Team of the Season for the third time.
When the curtain came down on Terry’s glittering 22-year Chelsea career that summer, Cahill was named club captain during a pre-season tour of Asia, the player himself saying he was ‘delighted, proud and excited’ to be handed such a prestigious honour.
The FA Cup had been the first competition for which he collected a winner’s medal as a Chelsea player in 2012 and while he didn’t feature in the final on that occasion, he started last season’s showpiece fixture against Manchester United and performed superbly alongside Azpilicueta and Toni Rudiger as we overcame the Red Devils, securing his seventh major honour as a Chelsea player.
With England reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup last summer, Cahill returned for pre-season later than other players, and with David Luiz and Rudiger having already established a partnership at the heart of the back four.
The skipper featured largely in the Europa League and League Cup this season, but his Chelsea story had already been written. He was able to say farewell to the Stamford Bridge crowd last month when brought on near the close of our win over Watford. It was his 291st Chelsea appearance, those games yielding 25 goals of his. He made four appearances in this season’s Europa League campaign which raises his trophy count to eight.
Munich, title triumphs and Wembley wins. Cahill has achieved it all during his time at Chelsea.
A great player, a great captain and a great man. Cahill will be missed throughout the club.
He arrived at a big club with big dreams, ones he will probably admit he did not expect to be realised so quickly and to such an extent. He departs a Chelsea legend.
Thank you Gary and best wishes for the future.