Gary Cahill’s professionalism has been obvious to all those who have known him during his career. And nothing has changed since his arrival in south London.
Sitting on the canteen balcony at Copers Cope, Cahill begins with a statement that highlights that professionalism; a player excited by a new challenge at 33-years-old: “Any club is different,” he says. “It’s a matter of you adapting to those changes from styles of play to new teammates, and you wanting to get your teeth stuck into that new challenge.”
The way Cahill conducts himself makes it obvious as to why Crystal Palace moved to have a serial winner of the Premier and Champions League, and former England captain, on their books.
It makes it even funnier when through a window just over Cahill’s right pops through James McArthur’s, and in his unmissable, thick Scottish accent he jokingly mocks our summer recruit.
Cover blown; seasoned pros, going through their umpteenth interview, can’t help but let their guard down when Macca is about.
Furthermore, this is confirmation, like it was even needed, that Cahill has settled in fast with the Palace way of life, and his teammates have welcomed him as a defender and a personality to the dressing room.
McArthur heads off and focus turns to Cahill’s first few weeks in south London. Stifling the final few laughs of Macca’s input, Cahill continues: “I’ve settled in really well; the lads have been great to me: very welcoming and an easy bunch to get on with. I could see that there was a good spirit here from the moment I arrived.”
Cahill arrives with a wealth – and envious amount – of experience, but the 33-year-old is joining a Palace defensive unit that in Joel Ward, Patrick van Aanholt, James Tomkins, Mamadou Sakho, Scott Dann and Martin Kelly currently has 729 combined appearances for the Eagles.
Letting go of years of fine-tuned habits at Chelsea must be hard for Cahill, years of lining up alongside players such Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz, but this ‘reset’ is something he is relishing: “When you come into any defensive unit, you begin training with another to work out and learn about everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. For me, that’s how a good partnership and back four can work.
“These are players who have played many, many games in the Premier League, so I come in with the desire to adapt and to learn about how these guys and this team want to defend and how I can play my part in that.”
For all the changes that Cahill has gone through, swapping west for south London, new teammates and a new work environment, one man has provided a recognisable presence: Roy Hodgson.
The Eagles manager awarded Cahill the Three Lions armband during his time with England, so there’s an understanding of how one another work and a respect that remains from those international years.
Speaking about Hodgson, Cahill smiled and said: “What you see with the manager is what you get. He has his ways of working and he expects training and games to be done with high levels of concentration and tempo which is very similar to what he was like as England manager. I know his principles and I’m looking to do the things that he wants.”
Having made his impressive debut against Manchester United at the weekend, it’s clear that Cahill is well regarded by Hodgson. After all, no matter how many times the former Chelsea defender has played at Old Trafford, going there for the first time with your new teammates wouldn’t have been easy.
Being trusted in those scenarios highlights why Cahill was selected to be the first man out of the tunnel under Hodgson for England and why he was chosen as the successor to John Terry at Stamford Bridge. Therefore, when a former captain of the calibre of Cahill discusses Luka Milivojevic with nothing but respect and admiration, you listen:
“My first impressions of Luka were very positive; he’s clearly a big character within the dressing room and I can see why he’s got the armband. He’s got lots of traits I’d look to see in a captain: very authoritative and, first and foremost, an excellent central midfield player.”
Having now made his first Premier League appearance for the Eagles, Cahill will be hoping today sees him on the teamsheet for his first runout at Selhurst Park, in front of the loyal and vocal south London support.
Today’s opposition Aston Villa are a team that the one-time Villans defender knows well, with the club providing the central defender with his breakthrough and footballing education.
Cahill joined the Villa setup as a 13-year-old, before eventually leaving for Bolton Wanderers after an eight-year spell at Villa Park, and it’s a time he looks back on with fondness:
“The majority of my memories are from the youth team, because I was only in the first-team for a small amount of games. However, it was an important time for me in terms of growing as a player.
“I came straight from school, moved into the club’s digs and then went through the youth team stages, to the reserves and then to training with the first-team.
“After a loan to Burnley for six months, I came back and managed to make my Villa debut; a real standout moment for me.”
Cahill came through at Villa with an age group that would go on to have varying levels of success at the top level – not all academy graduates can end up being Premier and Champions League winners.
Our summer signing recognises how important working with such a talented crop of youngsters had on his development, driving one another on: “Villa had a fantastic academy. When you look at the actual numbers of lads that make it through academy setups [into the Premier League], it’s so, so low. However, at Villa during that time they had two or three age groups that saw a large number of players come through.
“That’s a credit to them and their setup; I had a great education because of it, training with the likes of Gareth Barry, who was in the same digs that I was in, Liam Ridgewell, Jamie Ward, Steven Davis, Gabby Agbonlahor, Craig Gardner and I’m probably missing some out. Just naming those guys, though, is a large number alone.”
A smile comes across Gary’s face as he remembers, thankfully, playing at the opposite end of the pitch to teammate, Gabriel Agbonlahor: “When we were playing youth level, Gabby would be scoring two goals a game; we’d just knock the ball over the top and he was in one-v-one; he was just so quick.”
Always looking to progress, Cahill would analyse the senior pros ahead of him, they were already living his dream, and he wanted to replicate them: “Martin Laursen was there when I was there. And when I was a younger player at Villa I remember Gareth Southgate being there with Ugo Ehiogu.
“The youth team would be encouraged to go and watch the first team play on a Saturday, so I’d go along with my dad and that was very important for my development.”
If the likes of Martin Laursen were now youngsters coming through the ranks at Crystal Palace, there’s no doubt they’d be looking towards the way Gary Cahill plays and conducts himself as a professional. Arguably, the Palace centre-half has now gone further than those he idolised and looked to replicate growing up.
The above is from the 33-year-old's interview that he gave to the Crystal Palace programme ahead of the Aston Villa game. The digital version of the programme is still available to buy for £1.99. Click below to hear from Steve Parish, Luka Milivojevic and Roy Hodgson plus lots more insightful Eagles content.