Who has been the best Premier League signing of the summer?
Is it too early in the season for that question? Pretty much. However, that hasn’t stopped pundits discussing it, because, you know, they are pundits. There are plenty of candidates for them to discuss as well, if you just go by the size of the fee. Two obvious ones, would be Rodri to Man City as the young upgrade on Fernandinho, and Harry Maguire’s move to United making him the most expensive defender. Pundits have been lauding Harry, while I personally have the opinion that he is a bit over rated. There are plenty of other moves that would naturally catch the attention of the lazy pundits who don’t look at the details, just price. Sarr to Watford, Perez to Leicester, Kean to Everton, Joelinton to Newcastle, Pepe and Luiz to Arsenal to name a few. If there is one place they won’t be looking at, it is SE25.
To be honest, in many ways, it would be hard to blame them. I mean, after a summer in which we failed to make signings in the key areas we desperately needed, namely right back, left back and up front, it would be easy to overlook our transfer activity. It was a transfer window that left Palace fans everywhere extremely frustrated(and a certain Mr Hodgson I would imagine too). Yet, 7 games into the new season, there has started to be a buzz amongst those of us in red and blue, that actually, perhaps the signing of the season IS at SelhurstPark. The man who is creating that buzz, the name currently on everyone’s lips, is Gary Cahill.
Back in January, when rumours surfaced that Cahill could leave Chelsea on loan, I remember having a conversation with my mates about him. We were in agreement that if we could get him on loan until the end of the season, with the option of a one year contract after that, he could prove to be a good bit of business. When it didn’t happen though, it wasn’t of major concern. We had our first choice pairing of Sakho and Tomkins, with the ever improving Kelly as third choice, and Scott Dann returning to fitness, and so that area was not weak. The last few months of the season, however, would see us lose both Tomkins and Sakho to long term injuries, and come the last day of the season, injury to Dann saw Joel Ward fill in at centre back.
Despite this, going into the summer, with four senior centre backs and young prospect Sam Woods on the books, no one really contemplated the need for another centre back. However, James Tomkins failed to take part in a single minute of pre-season action, while Sakho’s return was brief, leaving Kelly and Dann to be our only choices. The final friendly against Hertha Berlin exposed the weaknesses of that pairing, and suddenly it appeared that maybe we did need something extra. Step forward Gary Cahill.
When it was announced that he had signed for the club, on a free transfer, with a two year deal, it was met with a mixed reaction. Some, including myself, were delighted to see him join. Others, were less happy. I do feel though, that those unhappy, weren’t necessarily unhappy with Cahill himself, but the fact that as with signing Henderson, and McCarthy, we were signing players in flush areas, and not where we were extremely thin. For me though, when you look at his credentials, it was a no brainer. I remember over his last few years at Chelsea, being told by their fans and pundits, that he was prone to errors. On top of that, his age and the fact he hadn’t played for a year, were things that could easily cause concern. Yet for me, we were signing a player with two Premier League winners’ medals, a Champions League winner’s medal, 61 senior England caps, and he had Captained England too. This kind of pedigree and experience could be vital to a team like us.
He sat on the bench for our opening two games, as we drew 0-0 at home to Everton and then lost 1-0 away to Sheffield United, both with tentative defensive performances. It was no surprise then, to see him make his first start as we travelled to Old Trafford, for what history told us, was an impossible task. The day would end, however, with Palace picking up a shock 2-1 victory, our first ever Premier League win at Old Trafford. While goals from Ayew and PVA naturally grabbed the headlines, a lot of talk from those who saw the game, was about how solid Cahill had been. This did not change when we then played Villa at home, picking up a 1-0 win. On that day, Cahill put in a masterful performance, showing composure and calm at the back. In the absence of Sakho and Tomkins, we had lost the defenders who were best at being given the ball from Guaita, and then getting us moving forward. Cahill has been given that role, and filled it naturally. Spurs was a bad day at the office for everyone, but solid performances against Wolves and Norwich have only served to enhance Cahill’s growing favour and reputation among us Palace faithful. So much so, that the Norwich game saw fans vote Cahill as Man of the Match.
Cahill, quite simply, has been a revelation for us, both on and off the pitch. His leadership qualities are there for all to see, as he has marshalled and organised our defence excellently. His composure, decision making and ability show just why he spent so many years at a top club, winning the biggest clubprizes in football. Off the pitch, he tweets regularly, always with positive messages, speaking well of those around him. At the start of a season darkened by the lack of key signings, and the Zaha saga, with the world and his wife telling us he was unhappy and desperate to leave, there was Cahill putting out positive messages, saying all the things we would want to hear. His interviews have been just as positive, and he comes across as a man who loves playing, and is happy to be here.
Given all he has achieved, he could have rocked up with a terrible attitude, and just half-arsed his way through the season. So many clubs have experienced this kind of thing through the years. Cahill though, just isn’t that kind of person. You can clearly see how much he cares, even at this early stage in his Palace tenure. Just look at how he celebrates a goal, how he rejoices at a win, how he interacts with the crowd from the pitch. We have all noticed it, social media has been a full of mentions and praise for him, and it is all thoroughly deserved.
I remember years ago, when we signed Michael Hughes from Birmingham. He had been out injured for a year, and I personally think we benefitted from that. Despite his growing age, he was fresh, and extremely hungry to make up for lost time. Now, I may be totally wrong, but I feel we are getting a similar benefit with Cahill. Sarri ignored him all season last year. For some, that could create a terrible attitude, but Cahill is clearly a top professional, and I think it served to motivate him. I think that by missing a year of football, it has actually helped keep him fresh, and provided the desire to go out there and prove a point, while at the same time, getting the chance to enjoy playing.
The fact is, we have managed to pick up a passionate, experienced, talented player, a winner, for two years, and we have done so for free. Roy has been a big reason as to how we have managed it, given their time together with England, and that kind of connection between player and manager can only serve as a huge positive for us. For the last two seasons, it has been clear to all fans that the Sakho/Tomkins partnership, has not only been our first choice pair, but possibly our best ever. Yet, Cahill’s impact has been such, that now, an extra element has been added to the equation. When people were picking who should be the starting defenders on Saturday(before Sakho was declared unfit), the question among fans wasn’t if Cahill should be dropped for Tomkins, but which one of Tomkins and Sakho should partner Cahill. There is no denying, that Cahill really has captured the hearts of Eagles fans all over the world.
His quality is such, that in Luka’s absence this coming Saturday, I would give Cahill the Captain’s armband. The fact that in our Back Of The Nest poll on twitter, Cahill won the Captain’s vote by a landslide, shows that I am not alone in this thought. I also feel that I am not being farfetched when I say, that Cahill would quite easily walk into the current shaky Arsenal defence, as well as the in-experienced, leaky Chelsea defence. The fact that Chelsea let Cahill go, when right now, he is exactly what their defence needs, just shows to me how mad football can be. Their loss however, is very much our gain, and I for one, am glad for it.
It’s only been a couple of months, but Cahill is already very much a fan favourite. If he continues like this for his entire two year contract, he will very much cement his place as one of us. He has been a fantastic coup for us, and long may it continue. Let me round this off by quoting a five word phrase that I have seen posted many times on Twitter in recent weeks. He and the club, seemingly, are a great fit for each other. Why? ‘Gary Cahill just gets it.’