Cahill feels at home in Chelsea's madhouse
On a biting March morning at Cobham, Gary Cahill is signing autographs for a group of lads invited to training as part of a Chelsea Foundation community scheme.
As John Terry instigates a training game with the visitors, Cahill, the man who has replaced him as first-choice centre-half, signs postcards of himself posing with the FA Cup and the European Cup.
The scene is a vivid reminder of how far and fast Cahill has come. Just five months after leaving Bolton Wanderers for Stamford Bridge, Cahill had his hands on the two grandest trophies in the game.
Nine months on, he is still adjusting to the waltzer-ride of life at England's most histrionic club.
"I feel like I have been here for about five years!" he says. "A lot has happened in that time." The second half of that answer is evidence of the understatement that has served Cahill well, both as a player and a character.
Since joining Chelsea for £7m in January 2012, the 27-year-old has played for three managers, seen the club lurch out of the Champions League and the title race, been sent off in defeat in the World Club Cup final, all while acclimatising to the intense pressure and scrutiny that comes with the job.
Little wonder his 14 months feels like longer. "In the period I have been here we won the FA Cup, won the Champions League, which is the best competition you can ever go into, and lost a couple of finals as well. So it has been crazy."
Amid the madness, Cahill has been one of Chelsea's few constants. In a marathon season of 52 games, and counting, he has played in 42, including internationals, and under Rafael Benitez has emerged as first choice at centre-back.
He has missed just one Premier League game since the turn of the year, and played alongside David Luiz at Old Trafford last weekend in a game Terry watched from the bench. The facts say he is first choice but Cahill (pictured below) still feels he is proving himself.
"The main thing is that I am playing in a lot of the big games, I am playing more regularly now, but we have got the luxury of four centre-backs, so we can chop and change. I think maybe I proved when I first came that I could play in the Champions League, because we went on and won it, and I played the games in there. Playing with England has helped me as well.
"You come here from a smaller club and people wonder, can he play here, can he do this? And you always feel like you are trying to prove yourself to people all the time. For me now it is just trying to prove that I can maintain a starting place at Chelsea."
Focusing on personal development is a not a bad coping strategy at Chelsea, where speculation around the personnel and manager's position is permanent.
Cahill offers support for Benitez, saying the interim manager's ideas are starting to take hold, despite the very real challenge posed by acute fixture congestion.
"We know a lot more about what he expects of us now. He is really thorough with the way he wants to play and his tactics. But it is difficult because of the amount of games we are playing.
"I can't tell you how many times we have everybody out for a full session... and that is very difficult for the manager."
Benitez is also working with a squad in transition, but Cahill believes that they have the core of a new side. "Eden (Hazard), Oscar, they are fantastic players. These lads are the future of Chelsea."
Cahill also believes the ferocious schedule – Chelsea will play six games in 16 days after the international break – has taken its toll.
"People criticise you if you say you are tired, and we know we have to get on with it. But all I am saying, as a general fact, is that players do not go into every game feeling 100pc fresh, it is impossible."
The treadmill takes another turn tomorrow when Chelsea entertain West Ham, a game Cahill can expect to play in having missed the Europa League win against Steaua Bucharest on Thursday.
It is a game that Chelsea cannot afford to lose but Cahill is confident a top-four finish can be salvaged. "We are in a position that if we win, we can get what we want. But games like West Ham are vitally important and there are teams on our shoulder going well as well.
"We have thrown away so many points this year. It's just that consistency we are after."
For a player who has made giant strides, it is just one more step.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)