Bolton defender Gary Cahill is facing a huge decision about the course of his career, with Chelsea and Tottenham interested in a player available for a fraction of his full transfer market value next month because he becomes a free agent in the summer.
The potential availability of an England international player not yet at his peak, six months before his contract runs out, is a rarity in Premier League football and the 26-year-old carries the advantage for Chelsea of being available for European football.
The likelihood of Cahill becoming one of the transfer stories of next month's window is all the greater because of the general need of central defenders among the top six clubs. Chelsea are almost certain to lose Alex – probably to Anzhi Makhachkala of Russia, with Juventus in contention – while the racism charge now looming over John Terry has the potential to create a more urgent need at a club where the form of David Luiz is a matter of concern.
Tottenham, whose defeat at Stoke City this month revealed their need for more central defensive quality, also remain in the running and Manchester City cannot be entirely discounted, having contemplated an £18m move for the player in the past. Cahill does seem to be lower down their priority list now, however.
Manchester United's plans are by no means clear, though the absence of Nemanja Vidic for the remainder of the season and Rio Ferdinand's struggle with injury – the latest being a knock which will keep him out until New Year's Eve – may make a £7m move for Cahill look extremely attractive. Although Chris Smalling and Phil Jones provide cover, Smalling has slotted in as a right back for Sir Alex Ferguson and there is a widely-held belief that deploying Jones as a centre back would be a waste of a young player's talent and energy. Ferguson's team selections suggest that he has reached the same view as Sam Allardyce, who managed Jones at Blackburn Rovers: that Jones should move back to central defence at a far later stage.
Though it is understood that Arsenal are not in the search for Cahill, as they have their quota of central defenders, Cahill appears likely to have choices, having found a laudable way to placing his career path on an upward trajectory: respectfully declining the offer of a new contract at Bolton and waiting for his opportunity.
It is understood that staying at the Reebok does remain a possibility for Cahill. Cahill, like the under-used winger Adam Johnson at Manchester City, is acutely aware that the England manager, Fabio Capello, wants his players to have had regular first-team football, which would be in no doubt if he stayed at Bolton.
But Bolton's debt levels were declared to be £110m – double their annual turnover – last month and with a 2009-10 wage bill which swallowed 86 per cent of revenue, the opportunity to sell while they can may be too good to resist for the club.
"It has been a tough start to the season for me," Cahill said this week. "Playing here and then playing for England has been two completely different end of the scales. In that respect it has been tough, because I want to do as well for Bolton as I can whenever I'm here. I go and give 100 per cent every time I put the shirt on, and I hope that people see that."
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