LONDON: Gary Cahill insists the FA Cup still matters as the Chelsea defender aims to salvage his toughest season by leading the Blues to Wembley glory against Manchester United.
Cahill has endured a difficult campaign after falling in and out of favour with both Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and England boss Gareth Southgate.
As if that wasn’t stressful enough, the 32-year-old was “devastated” after Ryan Mason was forced to retire in February following their clash of heads.
Hull midfielder Mason suffered a fractured skull after colliding with Chelsea in January 2017.
Adding insult to injury, Chelsea have struggled badly just a year after winning the title.
Conte’s side have failed to qualify for the Champions League after missing out on a top four Premier League finish following last weekend’s 3-0 defeat at Newcastle.
But, despite that litany of woes, Cahill has one last chance to finish on a high in Saturday’s Cup final showdown with United.
“It’s been tough for all those reasons. The Ryan (Mason) thing I’ve never been through before,” he said.
“Obviously that was very difficult to take. It’s been a rollercoaster season.”
Winning the FA Cup is seen in some quarters as a poor substitute for success in the Premier League and Champions League, with Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino especially vocal about the low position the domestic cups hold in his list of priorities.
But Cahill disagrees and the centre-back is adamant lifting the trophy at Wembley would be the equal of Tottenham’s top four finish.
“You can’t tell me the FA Cup isn’t ranked high. You are talking to the wrong fella,” he said.
“It’s right under winning the league for me. I’ve grown up around it.
“It’s massive in terms of this season. We’ve fallen short in other competitions but we have a chance to win a trophy in the last game of the season.
“If you qualify for the Champions League for seven or eight years, but don’t win any trophies, would you swap that for what we’ve done?
“I wouldn’t, but that’s me personally.”
Chelsea’s season has been marred by Conte’s public feud with the club’s hierarchy over their failure to back his transfer plans, as well as reports that many players have grown tired of the intense Italian’s demanding training regime.
Cahill doesn’t deny the constant soap opera around Chelsea can be distracting.
“It’s been a strange season. There’s been speculation here, there and everywhere,” he said.
“There has been all sorts of different things. It’s entertaining.
“There’s ups and downs. We know we fell short in the league this season.
“What’s done is done. We can win the cup and finish on a high. It’s a great competition.”
Since arriving from Bolton in 2012, Cahill has won six major trophies and he says Chelsea can win back their frustrated fans by beating United.
“I’d just say to Chelsea fans, last week at Newcastle was disappointing, but that game had zero importance in the end because Liverpool won,” he said.
“In four or five years is anyone going to remember that game? People remember a cup final.”
Cahill was Chelsea’s captain when they were beaten by Arsenal in last year’s FA Cup final and he expects them to make amends this weekend.
“Last season we went into the final thinking we could just deliver like we did for the rest of the season,” he said.
“This is a different kind of feeling. This is like we are going into it to save the season.”
Before he faces United, Cahill will discover if his season will include the World Cup.
Southgate names his squad on Wednesday for the tournament in Russia and Cahill isn’t certain to be included after missing out on the recent friendlies.
“I take it in my stride. You can’t impact it,” he said.
“I’ll wake up on Wednesday and if I’m in, I’m in. They will make the decision they want to make.
“My CV is there. It’s just whether they want to use that.” -- AFP