Chelsea insiders express surprise at Cahill freeze-out
As Chelsea's players file into the first-team canteen at the club's Cobham training ground, one of the first images to confront them is that of Gary Cahill holding the FA Cup high above his head.
Captaining Chelsea to Cup glory was one of the proudest moments of Cahill's trophy-laden career and yet the following nine months have turned into a nightmare ahead of the re-run of last season's final against Manchester United on Monday night.
Cahill hit rock bottom this week, when he was left out of Maurizio Sarri's travelling squad for the Europa League trip to Malmo without any sort of explanation or warning.
Having seen his team-mates humiliated in a 6-0 thrashing by Manchester City, Cahill would have been hopeful of at least getting on the substitutes' bench in Sweden, if not making his first appearance since November.
The 33-year-old is said to have been stunned to find his name was not on the travelling list, having not been pulled aside or warned that he was going to be left out by Sarri or his backroom staff.
As is the case with a number of fringe players, Sarri has barely spoken to Cahill and long-serving staff have been surprised by the treatment of a player who has been one of the club's best ambassadors and has won every domestic and European honour.
With less than six months on his contract, it is becoming a sad end to what has been an incredible career for Cahill at Chelsea since his £7m arrival in 2012.
Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte dropped Cahill at different times, but neither froze him out and both ended up restoring him to the team.
Conte brought him back in time for last season's Cup final and the former Aston Villa youngster helped Chelsea keep a clean sheet in their 1-0 success against United at Wembley.
Given his Malmo omission, Cahill will not be confident of playing against United, even though the picture of him in the canteen should serve as a reminder to his team-mates of how the FA Cup could help rescue their season.
Another player who has been annoyed by his lack of opportunities is teenager Callum Hudson-Odoi, who was given six minutes against Malmo.
Gianfranco Zola, the assistant manager, defended Sarri's handling of Hudson-Odoi by saying: "As soon as there is an opportunity, he plays. The manager is giving him plenty of reasons to feel involved and wanted.
"You need to understand he's surrounded by top players. You have to work hard to be better than them and that's what we want. He can still do better than he's doing."
Chelsea, meanwhile, have been charged by Uefa after a fan ran on to the pitch and hugged Eden Hazard following the 2-1 victory over Malmo. (© Daily Telegraph, London)