Gary Cahill gets another crack at breaking into the England team
Gary Cahill can remember the moment of impact back in June and the "crack", as he describes it, as his jaw collided with the shoulder of Joe Hart. When the Chelsea man recounted that moment this week, he said he knew then that any chance of playing at the European Championship was over.
It had been a remarkable six months for Cahill, 26, who had been bought by Chelsea from struggling Bolton Wanderers in January and gone on to play in the victorious Champions League run, including the final in Munich. He had worked his way up the hierarchy of centre-halves with the national team, to the point where he looked like the man most like likely to partner John Terry at Euro 2012.
Then, in the 17th minute of that friendly against Belgium he chased a ball back towards Hart and was shoved recklessly in the back by the winger Dries Mertens.
"If you're going to run into someone, Joe Hart is not the best person to chose," Cahill reflected. "I probably should have run into Ashley Young or somebody like that."
He can joke about it now but missing Euro 2012, given how much he had put into his international career, was difficult to swallow. Pardon the pun.
For four weeks, Cahill had his broken jaw wired together and metal plates inserted in his face while the bones set. He was restricted to soft food and cleaning his teeth was, he admits, a problem. Such is life occasionally for that traditional breed of centre-half. Cahill is a throwback in that sense. He tackles, he wins headers and puts his body on the line – quite a contrast with his recent defensive partner at Chelsea, David Luiz, who prefers a more unorthodox approach to the job.
It took Cahill a long time to win his first England cap, and he was harshly overlooked more than once, but he is not the complaining type.
There was a time when no international week was complete without a late call-up for Cahill. On three occasions in 2009 he was called upon by Fabio Capello to replace injured players named in the original squad. First for the Euro 2012 qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra in June that year, again for the double-header against Slovenia and Croatia in September and then again the following month for the games against Ukraine and Belarus.
In none of these games did Cahill play even a minute. Neither did he play against Brazil in Qatar in November 2009, the first time he was named in an original squad by Capello.
He was injured for the March 2010 friendly against Egypt and missed out altogether on that summer's World Cup squad. Named in the first post-tournament squad for the friendly against Hungary, Cahill still found himself on the outside. Finally, in September 2010, 15 months after he was first called up by England – and the sixth time he had been part of a squad – Cahill made his debut as a substitute against Bulgaria. Since then, he has become a regular although Joleon Lescott's performances at Euro 2012 mean that, for now, the Manchester City player is probably ahead of him in the pecking order. "We will have to wait and see the selection for the next two games but I certainly feel I am fighting to get myself back in, and rightly so," Cahill said.
"It was unfortunate I couldn't make the impact I wanted to, but I have started the season OK with Chelsea and I just need to fight to get myself back in there. There were many times when I travelled with England when I didn't even get on the pitch. I was in the stand a lot of the time and only getting called in when people could not make it or were out. I suppose doing that makes you appreciate it a bit more when you do get a chance. Now the fact I feel I can fight for a place is pleasing."
At Chelsea, Cahill has developed a reputation as a straight-talker, never more so than when he said his team "fell to pieces" against Atletico Madrid in Friday's European Super Cup. Thriving in the Champions League has undoubtedly changed perceptions of him which in turn has helped with his profile with England.
"Going to Chelsea pushed me on and made me learn," he said. "I think it gave me a chance to play in the big games that people said I had not played in. That was the main thing. People would say I was OK but hadn't played in the big games. It gave me an opportunity to do that.
"That experience brought me on but also made me more hungry because I just want to be part of more games like that. Many of the players who don't come from the big clubs have always got that. 'Can he do it in the big games?' Certainly coming from Bolton, I was not playing in the Champions League and that was always going to be a question mark over my head."
He admitted he can be too honest for his own good when it comes to his own performances but if that is a fault then it is not such a bad one. For an English footballer who had to take a step down from Aston Villa to Bolton before going back up to Chelsea, his story is a good example of what can be achieved.
Cahill in figures
6 Squads Cahill was called up to before he made his debut.
£7m His transfer fee from Bolton Wanderers to Chelsea in January.
0 Yet to play in a World Cup or European Championships.
3 Has been picked by three coaches for his 10 caps.
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