It would be no exaggeration to say that Gary Cahill’s life has been completely transformed in the five-and-a-half years since he made the move from Bolton to west London.
He arrived as a promising young international, looking to challenge himself at the highest level and hoping to win silverware.
Now he is one of the experienced heads in a successful Chelsea side, a goalscoring all-action defender who has worn the captain’s armband for much of this season and is always ready to make a crucial intervention at either end of the pitch.
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“So much has changed for me in that time,” he replied.
“When I first came to the club it felt like a whirlwind. It was amazing. I felt all the excitement of coming to a new club and just rolled with it.
“I moved house, then went straight into playing in a major European competition that I had never played in before, but I just went with it and before I knew it we had managed to win the FA Cup and the Champions League at the end of the season.
“So it was a crazy period, but a fantastic period in my career.
“Since then a lot has changed for me personally. I’ve gone on to play for England regularly and been lucky enough to captain my country and Chelsea as well. As the years have gone by I’ve played in more and more important games and I’m a much more experienced player now.”
That experience hasn’t been accompanied by too much cynicism or world-weariness, and his sentimental side is clearly still intact as he discusses the spontaneous kickabouts that used to break out after school at his childhood home in Dronfield, Derbyshire.
“There was a massive field over the back of where my parents lived, so it always used to be the same drill – we’d play football at school, come back to my house, go out to the field out the back and that was it until it went dark, we just used to play and have fun.
“Even at that age, everyone is aware of the FA Cup and everyone wants to play, or dreams of playing, in an FA Cup Final.
“It’s not just something that people hope to do; they see it as a dream because a lot of people can’t make it to a final like that.
“The history of the competition is huge when you’re growing up.
“No matter what level you’re at or how many finals you’ve played in, I think you have to realise that it is everybody’s dream, hence why it is such a huge game traditionally. It’s massive.”
The FA Cup was the first piece of silverware Cahill celebrated as a Chelsea player, back in May 2012, but he missed the Final against Liverpool through injury, making his comeback in Chelsea’s victorious Champions League Final in Munich later that month.
He has gone on to win every major domestic and European trophy but he admits that his excitement about Saturday’s game is just as high as it has been for any other of the showpiece finals in his career.
He added: “I feel excited for this game, I won’t be nervous, I’ll be more hungry, more determined and I’m just totally looking forward to it.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve won up to this stage of my career but I’ve always wanted to get back to play in the final of this competition. I’d be lying if I told you otherwise.
“I’ve played in all the other finals of competitions that I’ve managed to win and, while the feeling of winning the FA Cup is unbelievable no matter what, obviously it is that extra bit special if you’re on the pitch. I’ve wanted to get back there again so I can be on the pitch this time and that has long been a goal of mine.”
You can read more from Cahill in the official Emirates FA Cup Final programme. Pick up your copy at Wembley on Cup Final day, or you can order online and get it delivered by clicking here.