BY SAM SMITH
Young Crystal Palace defender Nikola Tavares has hailed the impact made by Gary Cahill since his signing from Chelsea in the summer.
Aside from Saturday’s 4-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur, the inclusion of the 33-year-old has vastly improved the Eagles’ back four. Palace had conceded just one goal in three games with the former Bolton Wanderers man in defence before that loss in north London.
And Tavares says the former England vice-captain has been helpful whenever he has stepped up to first-team training.
“I’ve had a few sessions over there, training with him. He’s just a good character to have around the training ground,” the 20-year-old said.
“I’ve had a few conversations with him, he’s positive and there is a lot you can learn from people who have won as much as he has. It’s a good signing and there are many positives that he will bring to the club.”
Tavares – who made the first-team substitutes’ bench on the final day of last season against Bournemouth – has represented Croatia between U18-U20 level but has had offers to play for South Africa.
The former Brentford man was born in the African nation to a Croatian mother and a Portuguese father. He also played for Hellenic FC while growing up but is committed to the country of his mother’s birth.
He said of playing international football: “Really proud, that’s the main feeling I get from it. There’s a clear dream when you are growing up, you’re not thinking about a certain club. It’s more your country you want to represent.
“It’s been amazing, the next level is the U21s that I will be trying to break into. I’ll probably need some first-team games, whether it be at Palace or whether I have to go on loan. Then that will be my main goal. Hopefully I can get to that corner.
“At the moment, I am completely committed to Croatia. That’s my main focus. Obviously there has been interest and I have been speaking to people from South Africa who have approached me. I have explained that, right now, Croatia is my main focus because I have represented them throughout youth level.
“I’ll take it step by step and we’ll see what happens in the future. I grew up in South Africa so I have that in me. I am South African as well as Croatian. We’ll see what the future holds but at the moment I am fully focussed on Croatia.”