LONDON (AP) — 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, where managers are cast aside with regularity and the captain is often left trying to maintain a sense of serenity in public.
Cahill won’t be emulating Terry by lifting the Premier League trophy this May. That is now certain as Chelsea finds itself in another downward spiral, domestically at least. And a plunge in the standings to fourth has cast doubt 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 defense and only came off the bench in the second half against West Brom last week.
“I see it being always challenging,” Cahill said in an interview with The Associated Press. “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 this moment in time, 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 successes in 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 Tuesday when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge in their last-16 first leg.
“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.”
In the league, only three points separate Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea in the three places below City, while Tottenham is only a point behind in fifth place.
Abu Dhabi-owned City, fueled by the type of squad investment that used to be lavished by Abramovich, has surged 19 points ahead of Chelsea.
“Man City is running away with it this year,” Cahill said. “That is one of those things. They have had to break records to do that don’t forget. We had a little blip but now we are back on track.”
After back-to-back league losses to Bournemouth and Watford, Chelsea has been buoyed by sweeping aside West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in its last league match and routing Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup on Friday.
“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 like in 2012 — months after Cahill signed from Bolton — winning the Champions League might still be Chelsea’s only route to rejoining Europe’s elite next season. That run to the final, where Bayern Munich was beaten on home soil, saw Chelsea overcome Barcelona in the semifinals. Now Chelsea is coming up against a Barcelona side leading in Spain by seven points.
“We are coming up against one of the favorites,” Cahill said. “It’s tough. 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.”
There’s so much for Cahill to fear. But the center back is now used to standing back from any disarray and cutting out the “noise” at the Premier League’s most turbulent club.
“I don’t even go season-by-season, I go week by week,” Cahill said in a rare moment of serenity at Stamford Bridge, surrounded by youngsters attending a Qatar National Sports Day event. “You have two bad results or two games and all of a sudden the team is struggling and you are the worst player ever.”
Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports