'We knew he had a bright future ahead of him' - former Burnley skipper Frank Sinclair on Gary Cahill
Burnley are likely to come up against former Claret Gary Cahill when they take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Monday night.
It is almost 16 years since an 18-year-old unknown arrived on loan from Aston Villa, making his senior debut in the League Cup against Tottenham Hotspur at Turf Moor.
Playing to the right of him that night was Frank Sinclair, who, after spending the rest of the season in the same back four, knew the centre back was destined for the top.
Cahill, now 34, was pitched in by Steve Cotterill, who was scouting the player in Villa’s reserves before he got the Burnley job that summer.
Sinclair recalled: “I remember after his debut against Spurs, in the cup.
“Steve had spoken a little bit about a young lad he was getting in from Aston Villa, and we didn’t know anything about him, but he got thrown in at the deep end into a massive game, and he was terrific.
“He was a pleasure to play with - I think he made the game easier for us!
“I went to right back, and you could tell straight away.
“One thing that sticks with me is I spoke to his dad in the players’ bar after the game, and he thanked me basically for guiding him through the game. I just said, ‘to be honest, I didn’t have to do anything, he was excellent’.
“We knew he had a bright future ahead of him.”
Cotterill stated Cahill would go on to play for England, and he went on to earn 61 caps, playing at two World Cups and Euro 2016.
But Cahill’s path to the top wasn’t so smooth, as he struggled to break into the side back at Villa, before carving out a reputation at Bolton Wanderers, and earning a big money move to Chelsea.
Sinclair admitted: “I couldn’t quite get why Martin O’Neill let him go at Villa.
“That was a strange one, because you could see how good he was going to be.
“And not only that, but knowing him, you saw day in, day out his work ethic and desire to improve.”
And the former Burnley skipper hopes he had a hand in Cahill joining his beloved Chelsea - where he went on to win the lot, two Premier League titles, two FA Cups, a League Cup, Champions League and Europa League!
Sinclair explained: “It was interesting when he was talking to both Chelsea and Arsenal at the same time, and I threw a little phone call in to him!
“I was asked by a couple of people to just have a chat and try and get him to commit to Chelsea.
“I don’t know if it affected it, but I told him how good a football club Chelsea was, how well I thought he’d do there, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
“He won everything there, the Premier League twice, Champions League, Europa League twice, FA Cup twice and the League Cup.
“I was there for eight years as a professional and managed to win two or three things, but to do that at that level consistently, you just take your hat off to him.”
Cotterill said to Express Sport earlier this summer: “At the time, Villa had a really strong squad, and Gary didn’t always get a game in their reserves, he was really young, 17, but he didn’t always get a game for the reserves.
“I remember us knocking Villa out of the League Cup, when Jean Louis Valois, people like that were playing - we beat them 3-1 at Turf Moor.
“David O’Leary let me have Gary. I spoke to him after the game and he was really good.
“I stayed in contact with Gary with the odd text, when he’s won the Premier League or played for England or whatever. It was really nice to give someone like that his debut.
“You wouldn’t want to claim setting Gary off on his career, because he was going to be a player anyway, but the experience of John McGreal and Frank Sinclair really helped him.”