Assuming the captaincy from John Terry with Chelsea as Premier League champions should have been a smooth transition for Gary Cahill.
The Premier League trophy had just been regained relatively comfortably as Antonio Conte restored stability in the Stamford Bridge dressing room after Jose Mourinho’s fractured second spell in charge. But this is a club where triumphs are often followed by turbulence. Cahill won’t be emulating Terry by lifting the Premier League trophy this May. That is now certain, with Chelsea in another downward spiral, domestically at least, and doubt has been on whether Antonio Conte will survive to manage Chelsea into a third season.
At 32, Cahill is no longer assured of his starting place at the heart of the defence and only came off the bench in the second half against West Brom last week.
“I see it being always challenging,” said Cahill. “You have ups and downs. For some reason at this football club everything is magnified about ten times. If you look at some teams that are behind us at the moment, everything is [viewed as] fine there.
“Then all of a sudden it seems like there is a lot of drama at our place.
“So I have been used to coping with that over the years I have been here. But for sure it’s a club like no other in terms of that.”
A club, still, that has a trophy haul unmatched in England since the 2003 takeover by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Six Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups as well as the 2012 Champions League and the 2013 Europa League.
Remarkably, the European silverware came at the end of some of the stormiest seasons with temporary managers at the helm: Roberto Di Matteo in 2012 and Rafa Benitez in 2013.
It seems only delivering Chelsea’s second Champions League title can reprieve Conte from being dismissed. Even if the trophy is collected in Kiev in May, given the public grumbling about the transfer policy, it seems hard to see how the Italian coach can survive. The European challenge resumes tonight when Barcelona visit Stamford Bridge.
“I see this month being massive,” Cahill said. “It might shape where we are. We have the FA Cup, we have the Champions League – obviously two important competitions for us, especially this year when you look at the league.
“So I see by the end of this month determining where we are going to be sitting and whether this is going to be a successful season.”
“We have proved before that we can turn things around,” Cahill said. “Individually, if you are talking about myself for example. I have proved three or four times before I can turn it around.”
Just as in 2012 – months after Cahill signed from Bolton – winning the Champions League may still be Chelsea’s only route to rejoining Europe’s elite next season. During that run to the final, Chelsea overcame tonight’s opponentswho currently lead La Liga by seven points.
“We are coming up against one of the favourites,” Cahill said. “They are going to have a lot of possession, you know they are going to have players that can hurt you – whether that’s [Lionel] Messi or he’s having an off day, then [Luis] Suarez, or if he’s having an off day, then [Philippe] Coutinho.”