Democracy has come to England.
When Fabio Capello picked his line‑up for the match against Bulgaria last week, he overlooked men who are with Manchester's Champions League clubs. The centre‑halves Joleon Lescott and the precocious Phil Jones, from City and United respectively, did not even make the bench. Instead it was Gary Cahill of Bolton Wanderers who scored the opener and then helped to ensure the clean sheet in a 3-0 victory.
Capello had never looked more of a meritocrat. The 25-year-old Cahill, however, would already have enjoyed a higher profile had it not been for the vagaries of the transfer market. Arsenal wanted to sign him in the last season of his contract, for £7m, but it was an offer not simply resisted but treated with contempt by Bolton.
In such circumstances a footballer can become resentful and disillusioned, but Cahill speaks as if he is equable about the matter.
"I've not experienced that on a deadline day before," he said. "But to be honest it was different from what you saw on the TV as there wasn't a decision for me to take. It was just a matter of me thinking of what was happening, wondering if they were going to accept a bid or not. It was obviously a bit mentally tiring and then when the window was shut it was a question of focusing on the job in hand [against Bulgaria].
"There were lots of thoughts and I'm not going to lie as it affected me a little bit. But I'm basically a laid-back character and I don't tend to let many things bother me. It was just a case, when the window shut, of knowing where I'm going to be and re‑focusing a bit, enjoying my training and looking forward to the game."
Cahill comes across as unflappable, but it must be borne in mind that the consolations are considerable for a footballer who will be able to negotiate terms as a free agent next summer. Nothing seems to upset him much and that attitude may stem from the fact that his first club, Aston Villa, were happy to sell him to Bolton for £5m three years ago.
His prominence is a retort to that particular assessment of his worth. There is also sufficient confidence for him to agree that he has established himself with England. "I'd like to think so," said Cahill. "It was a great end to a sticky week [of transfer speculation] so I was pleased with that. From the [England] manager's point of view, hopefully he knows he can rely on me to start or come on."
Cahill does bear the handicap of relative inexperience. Appreciative of Bolton as he is, the defender has had to convince Capello of his merits regardless of a lack of any Champions League matches during his career. "Touch wood, I'm still getting my opportunities for England which I am thankful for. I just need to keep my head down and work as hard as I can for Bolton. Hopefully my performances there will be enough."
The centre-back is reassured, too, that Capello and his staff will go on monitoring him in the Premier League. Although Bolton are a capable side, it may still be to Cahill's benefit that he is tested more extensively than defenders at United or City. In all likelihood the England manager would reinstate Rio Ferdinand instantly, but his ability to sustain match fitness is debatable.
There is a doggedness to Cahill and when he speaks of an effort to keep showing his quality it is easy to envisage Capello being pleased by the perseverance.
The manager was delivering a sincere endorsement when he allowed the defender to make his first start in a competitive international in a moment of stress for England, following the draw with Switzerland at Wembley.
Cahill, if Capello sticks with him, will be subjected to more serious examinations than the one set by Bulgaria. For the moment, plaudits are scarce at Wembley for a national team who were held to a draw there by Montenegro and Switzerland. Cahill recognises that many visiting sides will be defensive as they aim to spread disillusionment among fans who have not forgotten last year's World Cup, even if the England line-up is substantially altered now.
There is a freshness and sense of fun to the centre-back, as when he thinks of his goal last week. "I linger around and join in the [Bolton forwards'] finishing sessions," he said, "which they're probably not too happy about."
Cahill is enjoying himself and that liveliness of spirit has certainly registered with Capello.
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