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Gary Cahill: The Best Centre Back We Ever Had at Bolton Wanderers?

Chris puts on his thinking cap - and you know what that means

Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

I was spending Tuesday night much in the way that I spend most Tuesdays - sat on the sofa, tapping away at the laptop and browsing Twitter - hoping for either a meltdown from one of our more emotionally unstable fans, or for the 9pm dog-walking reminder to go off on my phone.

In the absence of either, I noticed this little tweet from Chelsea's official feed:

It got me thinking, and I don't mean about that stupid hashtag.

Was Gary Cahill the best defender that we have ever had on the books at Bolton Wanderers? The Dronfield-born centre half left the club in January 2012 for Chelsea, and as the tweet above states, has gone on to rather well for himself.

I thought about other potential candidates - restricting it to players that I have actually seen play.....and then I made a table, and then I deleted the table because I hate Microsoft Word.

So - the contenders:

Mark Fish v Gary Cahill

I owned a Mark Fish hat. It cost £12.

The rangy South African joined from Italian Serie A side Lazio in 1997 for £2.5m, and went on to make just over 100 appearances for the club. One of the original 'cult heroes' of the Premier League era, Fish had pace, power, strength and self-belief. He was the prototype Gary Cahill, if you like.

However, what works against him in this little battle is the fact that he didn't hang around. His 103 appearances isn't that far from Cahill's 130, but the sense of stability that Cahill brought sees him edge things in this first contest. A solid and reliable performer, I don't think anyone begrudged Cahill his own big move, but that's not to say that we pushed him out of the door either.

To only get £7m for him, looking back now, was a brilliant deal on the part of Chelsea who pulled our pants down in a similar fashion back in 1998 when they stole Eidur Gudjohnsen for £4m.

So yeah, sorry Fishy, and I do still love you, but Cahill was better.

Bruno N'Gotty v Gary Cahill

Ah Bruno. The king of the floaty free-kick. A tough S.O.B. and someone who was around the vast majority of the mid-2000s which will forever be remembered as one of the golden ages in the history of our famous club.

Signed on loan from Marseille to aid the club's fight against relegation, N'Gotty soon impressed and was signed on a permanent basis soon after. Showing the class that brought him to the attention of the likes of AC Milan back in his early days, N'Gotty was equally at home at right back as he was at centre back.

Possibly Cahill's toughest challenger for the crown, N'Gotty made almost 150 appearances for the club before leaving to wind down his career at Birmingham City and Leicester City respectively.

This is really close. Almost too close to call. Both outstanding readers of the game, blessed with great strength and positional nous - I am going to have to go with Cahill by dint of his better goalscoring record. Always a threat with the ball at his head as well as his feet, he smashes Bruno out of the park, scoring 13 goals to the Frenchman's 5. A very tough call to make, but I've made my own bed with the title of this piece.

Sorry Bruno.

Chris Fairclough v Gary Cahill

What a player.

Fairclough was another solid centre half, but one from a very different era. Arriving at the club from Leeds United for £500,000 back in 1995, he would go on to make 90 appearances, scoring eight goals along the way. The former Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur stalwart was 31 by the time he arrived at Burnden Park in an effort to help Wanderers survive their first ever Premier League campaign.

It would be a battle that the club would ultimately lose, but the following year saw Fairclough develop his partnership  with Northern Irish hardman Gerry Taggart and driving the club to the First Division title with a then-record points haul in what was the final year at the famous old ground.

This is another toughie, because I really loved Chris Fairclough, and he was as dangerous in front of goal as Cahill was - the only chink in his formidable armour was perhaps that he didn't impress too much whilst playing in the top flight in the Wanderers shirt. On that basis I'm going to go with Cahill who gave blood, sweat and tears in order to maintain our Premier League status.

Florent Laville v Gary Cahill

A controversial pick perhaps, but one of those 'what might have been' players that we seem to have had more than our fair share of over the years.

Signed by legendary manager Sam Allardyce on loan from Lyon in 2003, Laville only actually made 15 appearances for the club before spending the best part of two years out with injury. He would return to action spending a single season in the Bastia side before retiring in 2007.

Laville had it all. A superb positional brain was married with a physical toughness that few could compete with. It was surprising that his French employers found it so easy to let him go when he had made over 200 appearances for the club.

Despite being sent off against Arsenal on his debut, Laville formed a superb defensive partnership with Gudni Bergsson which was ended all too soon with the Frenchman's injury. I include him here out of a sense of romanticism, and had he been able to play longer for the club then perhaps he'd stand more of a chance - for those who never got to see him you missed an absolute treat.

I hope he's keeping well.

Gudni Bergsson v Gary Cahill

The final candidate is everyone's second favourite Icelander.

Arriving at the club from Tottenham Hotspur in 1995 for a fee of £90,000, he went on to make 270 appearances for the club before retiring in 2003.

One of the most consistent players that I have ever seen, Bergsson was versatile - excelling either at centre half or at right back. Blessed with a typically stoic Nordic personality, nothing seemed to ruffle the proud owner of 80 international caps for Iceland.

Another one who enjoyed a good portion of his Bolton Wanderers career in the lower leagues, he was equally impressive in the Premier League despite his advancing years. He would retire from the game at the 10,000th time of asking.

Splitting Cahill and Bergsson is a tough ask, and there's perhaps only a fag paper's width between the two. I have to go with Cahill on the basis of him being a bit quicker and a better reader of the game, but it's damned close.


Surprisingly, it's Gary Cahill.

The centre half had it all. Pace, power and strength. He was extremely capable on the ball as well as off it, and relied upon his own ability to get him out of any bother.

The fact that he has gone on to have such a brilliant career at one of the most successful clubs in the last decade is a testament to his own ability and desire. I confess to having had doubts before his move to Chelsea that he had the class to make himself a regular in their side - but the fact that he has now made over 100 appearances for the club as well as winning every conceivable honour since is a wonderful achievement and something that he is right to be proud of.

I remember him making his international debut at Wembley in 2010 for England against Bulgaria. It was a proud night for all Wanderers fans - as was the occasion of his first goal for England against the same opposition in the qualifying rounds of UEFA Euro 2012 in the 13th minute making him the first Bolton Wanderers player to score for England since Ray Parry against Northern Ireland in 1959.

His time at Bolton seems a long while ago now, and his rise and rise has been as quick as our own downfall. I think it is only right to crown Gary Cahill as the best defender in the history of Bolton Wanderers.

Congratulations Gary, and good luck to the next generation.