What a year... but Gary Cahill is no stranger to crazy days
Chelsea defender has seen it all before with assorted unpopular managers
It was not quite the anniversary that Gary Cahill had planned, to celebrate exactly 12 months as a Chelsea player; being pictured holding head in hands after allowing Rickie Lambert to escape and score a crucial goal in Southampton's unexpected 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
As he was saying in a long interview just the previous day, however: "It's been a crazy situation, a crazy year. If you think of all the things that have happened in the space of one year it's amazing. Two trophies, three managers and a couple of finals lost. It's been a mad year." Plus, of course, establishing himself in the England squad, then missing Euro 2012 after colliding with his own goalkeeper at Wembley.
The madness extended to a phone call at 4.30am while he slept at the team hotel before the game at Stoke City last Saturday. It was his girlfriend to say that a baby that was not due for fortnight was on the way. After hurrying home he was in place for the birth of little Leo, just an hour before his team-mates went out and won 4-0 at one of the supposedly trickier Premier League grounds. Crazy days; that made six successive away victories, yet there have now been only two wins in Rafa Benitez's seven home games – by scores of 6-1 and 8-0.
The Lambert goal was the only false step Cahill made in midweek, but after Jason Puncheon thumped in an equaliser there were more boos for Benitez who, following the announcement earlier in the day of Pep Guardiola's decision to pass up the madhouse in favour of Munich, suddenly finds himself the bookmakers' favourite to be in charge for the first game of next season. The "interim manager" showed in replacing local hero Frank Lampard with Fernando Torres that he is not courting popularity.
"It's a strange situation," Cahill admits, though in his case a not unfamiliar one. He once served for 18 months of David O'Leary's increasingly unpopular regime at Aston Villa, then moved to Bolton and worked for two years under Gary Megson, who said of his time there: "The fans didn't like me, and I don't particularly like them either."
Cahill's take on all this is the professional's one that results are the bottom line. "Like anything in football it was when results started going badly that some [Bolton] fans started turning a little bit on him and some parts of the stadium didn't particularly like the style of play. That's the way football is.
"At this moment a faction of [Chelsea] fans aren't behind the manager, but I think players have to keep working hard and the manager keeps working hard to get results. If that happens, I'm sure it will turn round. Everyone wants this club to do well and win games, so it's a matter of everyone pulling in the right direction. That would be great. As players we've just got to keep fully focused and do as well as we can."
After O'Leary and Martin O'Neill, Megson and Owen Coyle, his range of managers has been dramatically increased in the space of those 12 Chelsea months. First came Andre Villas-Boas, briefly. "He signed me and it was strange for me, I was left out for a few weeks at first. I don't think it was a case of not fancying me, he brought me in, so he must have seen something in me.
"Maybe he thought I needed to be bedded in, but it wasn't long after that he got the sack. AVB looked into things in real, real depth, unbelievable depth sometimes, which is his style and has obviously brought him success. With Robbie [Di Matteo], who'd already been here as a coach, that eased off a little bit, and the sessions were similar. Robbie was good at communicating with the players, whether you were playing or not.
"The new gaffer [Benitez] is into knowing exactly what's expected of you. Tactically he's very organised, which has been good and made us more stable and more organised and compact. He speaks to you a lot and everything is trying to improve your game or the positions you should be in. Or he'll ask you what would you do in a particular situation."
Bringing John Terry back against Arsenal today would go down well with most of the home crowd despite worries about his lack of pace if Theo Walcott plays in the middle. Chelsea may have won 2-1 at the Emirates in September, but last season's 5-3 home defeat, when Terry was exposed and Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick, is a sore memory.
Cahill says all defenders are perplexed by the current confusion of interpretation over tackles such as Vincent Kompany's on Jack Wilshere last Sunday, for which a red card was awarded, then rescinded. "You go into some tackles thinking that's fine, but some are getting done and some aren't. I'm conscious of trying not to go to ground too much, but that shouldn't be the case. You see defenders slide in and get the ball, and that's the way you've got to play sometimes. But with some referees at the moment it tends to be that it's too risky to go to ground."
As the man said, crazy days. He would settle for a nice calm one and a home win this afternoon.
Chelsea FC have helped Right To Play raise more than £2m since 2007. In November the club extended their partnership with the charity, who use sport and play to educate over 830,000 children in 19 countries affected by war, poverty and disease.
Chelsea v Arsenal is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm
Fan the flames: Causes for complaint in the blue and red corners
"Those charged with taking Chelsea forward appear to be totally out of touch with the supporters."
Editorial in cfcuk fanzine
1. Sacking Robbie
Roberto Di Matteo's huge popularity as a player was further enhanced by winning the FA Cup and then the Champions' League as a manager.
2. Appointing Rafa
Rafa Benitez was such a bitter rival when he was in charge at Liverpool, and made supposedly disparaging remarks about Chelsea.
3. The Nando conundrum
Persisting with Fernando Torres while allowing Daniel Sturridge and Romelu Lukaku to leave was odd; picking him ahead of new signing Demba Ba was perverse.
4. Frank's future
Declining to offer 34-year-old midfield legend Frank Lampard even a one-year contract has bemused not just fans but neutral pundits too.
5. Grounds for concern
The botched attempt to buy back the freehold of Stamford Bridge from Chelsea Pitch Owners with a view to moving to a new stadium has been a cause of discontent.
"I believe we are living through 'Groundhog Season'. Exactly the same thing happens before, during and after each season and nothing positive is ever done about it."
Contributor to onlinegooner.com
1. Lack of quality
Arsène Wenger won't buy at the top end of the market, preferring £7-10m players who may not be good enough.
2. Best players leaving
The board will not give him sufficient funds anyway, and have an unrealistic wage structure that almost cost them Theo Walcott; other leading players did depart.
3. The quiet American
Major shareholder Alisher Usmanov wants to put money into the club but is kept at arm's length by his rival, "Silent" Stan Kroenke.
4. Farewell to the fixer
Allowing vice-chairman David Dein to leave was a huge mistake. He was an effective and trusted link between the board and Wenger.
5. Deep-seated unease
Ticket prices are even higher than at their London competitors, even though some category C games have been reduced this season.
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