Wednesday 21 August 2019

'It makes it very hard for me to have respect for someone' - Chelsea star Cahill blasts Maurizio Sarri over treatment

Defender admits he plans to erase his final season at Stamford Bridge from his memory

Gary Cahill: ‘It makes it very hard for me to have respect for someone who has not respected what some of us have won with the club’. Photo: Paul Dennis/TGS Photo/REX/Shutte
Gary Cahill: ‘It makes it very hard for me to have respect for someone who has not respected what some of us have won with the club’. Photo: Paul Dennis/TGS Photo/REX/Shutte

Matt Law

It was completely in keeping with his seven-year Chelsea career that Gary Cahill arrived half an hour early for our interview ahead of his Stamford Bridge farewell.

Since refusing to give in to injury to play in the 2012 Champions League final just four months after arriving as a £7 million signing from Bolton Wanderers, Cahill has been one of Chelsea's most reliable players and characters.

He has also been one of the most successful, collecting every domestic and European winner's medal, and taking over the captaincy from John Terry. As he said himself, Cahill can leave with his head held high at the end of a season in which it could so easily have dropped.

Chelsea's final Premier League home game against Watford today will mark the 33-year-old's goodbye, whether or not he is involved in the match, with the players due to complete their annual "lap of appreciation".

Cahill described the final season of his contract, during which he has not started a league game and has not been offered any personal explanation from manager Maurizio Sarri, as "terrible" and one that he will erase from his memory as soon as he leaves Chelsea.

But the good memories far outweigh the bad for Cahill, who remains thankful to Chelsea and the club's supporters for sharing what will inevitably be the best years of his career, even though he is excited about what the next chapter has to offer.

"If you look at the big picture, not this season, I think in terms of myself and Chelsea, we have been good for each other," said Cahill. "They have been great for me and given me the platform to express myself on the biggest stage and I feel I have given everything for the club and for the shirt when I've played. And I've been lucky enough to be in a lot of successful teams that have won a lot of trophies."

Cahill was given the quickest of introductions into what life at Chelsea would be like. Less than two months after joining, the manager who signed him, André Villas-Boas, was sacked but little over two months later he was a European champion.

Conversations with Terry had prepared Cahill for the sink-or-swim nature of Chelsea and he joined the club over Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur because he was desperate to win. Champions League, two Premier League, Europa League, two FA Cup and League Cup winner's medals confirm he made the right decision.

His value to the Blues was also recognised by his peers, as Cahill was voted into three Professional Footballers' Association teams of the year in four seasons.

"When I first signed and walked into that dressing room with so many iconic players, I just knew Chelsea was where I wanted to be," he said. "I could have pursued a move elsewhere, but I wanted to win and Chelsea felt right for that. I wanted to compete every year for trophies and Chelsea is that club.

"It took a few weeks for me to say to myself, 'You know what, I can play at this level', and then when I got that confidence I went from strength to strength.

"I feel privileged to have been involved in Chelsea teams with such legendary players as Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, JT and Lamps (Frank Lampard), and the list goes on. To witness how they train and work has been a blessing for me. All my best years in football have been in the last six or seven years.

"But look at the players who have come and lasted one or two years and you see a club like Chelsea can be very difficult. It's a ruthless environment, you sink or swim and half of that is ability and the other half is mentality. You have to be able to handle the stings."

Cahill likened succeeding Terry as Chelsea captain to trying to follow Alex Ferguson as manager at Manchester United. But the pair's relationship made the handover smooth and Cahill's pride at lifting last season's FA Cup demonstrates how highly he has valued the armband.

"John was someone I admired when I wasn't at the club and admired even more when I played and worked with him," says Cahill. "When it was clear he was leaving, it was a bit like when Alex Ferguson left Manchester United in terms of the captaincy: 'Who's going to take that'? But also: 'Who's not going to take it?'

"John was great when he wasn't playing and he was still club captain and I was captaining the team. We won the title that year and I played near enough every game. I remember in the tunnel before we got the trophy, he was adamant that I should wear the armband when we lifted it together. That was a mark of what he is like.

"Then I took on the club captaincy after John left and that's part of the reason why last season's FA Cup win was so big for me.

"I wanted to win it because I had missed the final with injury in my first season and I really wanted to lift the Cup with the armband on as club captain."

The FA Cup success of last May will be what Cahill regards as his last Chelsea memory, so keen is he to forget his nightmare final season under Sarri.

"It's been really terrible for me personally," says Cahill. "It will just be erased out of my head when I leave Chelsea. My last memory will be last season's FA Cup final.

"It's been very difficult. I have played on a regular basis over the previous six seasons and I've won everything with Chelsea, so to be watching from the stands is something I didn't expect. I know how the whole club works, I've got a big relationship with all the players and staff, and yet none of that has been utilised. If you are not playing, any player, for two, three, four games, then you don't have to give a reason for that. But if it gets to eight or nine games, then you have to explain the situation. What's going on? But the manager hasn't done that.

"I see some of the situations with players who won the title with Chelsea, not just myself, and it just hasn't been right. It makes it very hard for me to have respect for someone who has not respected what some of us have won with the club."

Despite admitting Cahill may be Chelsea's best defender in the box, Sarri has explained his omission by claiming he is not technical enough.

But, having played under 19 managers during his club and international career, including seven at Chelsea, Cahill says: "I've adapted to the different tactics, formations and philosophies of all the managers I've played under and will continue to learn from my next coach. Every experience, good or bad, is a learning process."

As difficult as it has been, Cahill has kept his counsel until now and adds: "I'm quite proud with how I have dealt with it. I've not been disruptive and I've trained hard every single day.

"I've got a respect for all the other people at the club, the players and the staff and the people who helped to give me a chance, so it's been important to me to conduct myself in the right way."

Cahill, who was part of Gareth Southgate's England squad at last summer's World Cup, was keen to stress that his opinion of Sarri should not be interpreted as sour grapes at not playing. "I went to the World Cup and didn't play, but I came back with an even higher opinion of Gareth Southgate," he said. "It's all about how you treat somebody."

Fulham were one of a number of clubs to inquire about signing Cahill in January, but the former Aston Villa youngster insisted a decision over his next move could not be rushed as he looks to play on for another three or four years.

"People talk as though my career is coming to an end, but it's not like that for me at all," says Cahill. "I 100 per cent see me playing another three or four years easily. I'm ready to go and I leave this club thankful to all the players, staff and fans who have helped me so much, and I go with my head held high."

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