In the 20th season of an outstanding professional career, Tim Cahill has finally come home.
Australia’s groundbreaking record goal scorer – with 48 strikes in 94 internationals – had only been seen fleetingly in the flesh by supporters Down Under before August’s heralded recruitment by ambitious Melbourne City.
To witness the pugnacious forward, for whom unflinching belief took him to England as a teenager in 1997, red-eyed trips to the sofa in the early hours because of the punishing time difference were required as he featured in the FA Cup final with Millwall and buffeted Premier League defenders at Everton for the best part of a decade.
The last four years contained a globetrotting spell, taking in Major League Soccer’s New York Bulls plus the Chinese Super League with Shanghai Shenhua and Hangzhou Greentown. Yet a burning desire remained unquenched before City Football Group identified the now 37-year-old as the perfect talisman for their expansion into the burgeoning A-League.
Speaking to Sport360 from Melbourne, this key figure in an emerging nation’s transformation expressed his contentment with life at new employers – for whom a trademark header in November’s FFA Cup final has already secured a trophy.
“It has been an awesome transition from joining a club that was so far away from winning something, then within the first three months being able to deliver some important silverware,” says Cahill, who scored at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
“It’s been great, interacting with the fans and also trying to build the culture and authenticity. I’m Australian and coming home. I’ve been away for a long time, playing in other leagues around the world.
“City Football Group’s clear vision of where they want to go and what they want to do, plus the way they want to implement their style of football and how they want to invest into Australian football, was really important to somebody like myself.”
Cahill is the last remaining member of a vanguard of outstanding players who carried the Socceroos to unheralded success, beginning with their run to a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to eventual champions Italy during World Cup 2006’s round-of-16. He was a dominant presence alongside the likes of inventive Liverpool winger Harry Kewell, mercurial Middlesbrough centre forward Mark Viduka and Parma tyro Mark Bresciano.
Since this historic group started hanging up their boots at the turn of the last decade, the 2015 Asian Cup has been added. Yet a failure to reproduce similarly-accomplished talents is hard to deny.
Bournemouth substitutes Adam Federici and Brad Smith were the only representatives from the Premier League in the last squad. No1 goalkeeper Mat Ryan has made just 10 La Liga appearances for Valencia in the past two seasons and recent changes to the foreigners rule in China look likely to severely impinge on game time for the likes of Jiangsu Suning centre-back Trent Sainsbury.
Cahill admits to finding the situation “a little bit worrying” when you scan coach Ange Postecoglou’s current squad, who are fighting against the UAE to make World Cup 2018.
He says: “I don’t think you’ll get many players like the last generation we had.
🙌🏽🙌🏽 @MelbourneCity #together pic.twitter.com/oqcOMgspnB— TIM CAHILL (@Tim_Cahill) January 23, 2017
“The key thing was, our generation were all playing in the biggest leagues. Right now when you do your homework, there are not a lot of them playing in the Premier League, if any. That is a little bit worrying.”
The third-and-final round of the Asian process to make next year’s tournament in Russia soon whirrs back into life. The UAE will travel to Sydney for March 28’s test in search of both a result to keep alive waning hopes of a second-ever entry, plus thoughts of revenge after Cahill came off the bench in September to lash home the only goal.
“I am definitely expecting a big test,” he says. “One thing is they [the UAE] are a great football team, they have a lot of great players.
“The great thing is that the levels are rising throughout Asia. We are under no illusions the UAE will be tough to beat.”
The last two AFC Player of the Year gongs have been won by Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and Al Ahli forward Ahmed Khalil, yet no trailblazing permanent move to Europe by an Emirati has occurred. Can Cahill understand why they haven’t followed in his footsteps?
“They have great lives and they get looked after by their country,” he says. “The thing is, their influence on the national team and the growth of the league there relies on those types of guys to stay around.
“It would have been great to see them take the leap and have a try at it. But I think they are pretty comfortable as they are.”
Cahill is best known for a spell on Merseyside from 2004-12, where an aggressive, powerful approach and acumen in the air earned respect. There, his famous goal celebration of punching the corner flag was seen 68 times in 278 fully-committed appearances.
What a performance today, special moment to get my first goal! Thanks for all the messages. #COYB pic.twitter.com/Xi8eOymQyV— Thomas Davies (@1TomDavies) January 15, 2017
A new batch is emerging under boss Ronald Koeman, headlined by 18-year-old centre midfielder Tom Davies.
For Cahill, another Everton starlet has also caught his eye.
He says: “I think Tom Davies is exceptional. He is really developing and the coach is starting to show more faith in him.
“I’d also like to see Kieran Dowell, who I think will be even bigger than Davies.”
Cahill is expected to move into a directing role for the third year of his contract, once World Cup 2018 is over. As one career approaches its end at City Football Group, another member’s is on the ascent.
Socceroos midfielder Aaron Mooy is excelling on loan from Manchester City at the Championship’s Huddersfield Town, and Cahill is sure he couldn’t be in safer hands.
“He is one of the shining stars,” he says. “I am so happy for him as he is learning his trade. The City Football Group have put him in a great club and are monitoring him to make sure his development is great.”
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