Words by Martin Lowe
The term legendary gets kicked around quite leisurely in each and every corner of the media (on occasion too liberally by even ourselves), however Tim Cahill’s name is surely edging ever closer to this description, at the very least from an Asian football perspective. He’ll look back on a year where he’s clinched a home Asian Cup, commanded a high paid transfer to one of the continent’s brightest leagues and continued to spearhead his country in a World Cup qualifying campaign he isn’t expected to finish. Just another year, then, from the man of Samoan descent.
Even at 36, some people questioned his inclusion as the focal point of the hosts attack at the Asian Cup. It seems remarkable that these question marks continue to crop up, as every Australian pundit continues the clamour to predict the next Tim Cahill. For the next year at least, and who knows even further still, the next Tim Cahill remains the present Tim Cahill…
Looking back on his and his side’s Asian Cup campaign, it was no surprise that his impact was imprinted across their style and performance. Ever since he was finally utilised as a regular centre forward over the last two national managerial tenures, Cahill has grown from strength to strength, continuing to defy his often label of a “good header of a ball” but little else. It has been well known for a while now by regular Asian football watchers, but his goal in Brazil against Holland at the World Cup well and truly woke up a global audience to his ability with his feet.
His form going into the Asian Cup was sluggish, he had hardly starred for former club New York Red Bulls in the previous year, and to be honest, even we were suggesting this could be his swan song to his national team career which could see him replaced more often than not in the following matches.
In practice we couldn’t have been further from the truth. Cahill started all but one match in their title winning campaign, the only match he missed (against eventual finalists Korea in the group stage), Australia looked a team without focus, rudderless, with a lack of direction. However, his introduction for the final quarter of an hour clearly changed that, as he went on to be pretty much undroppable ever since.
Scoring three across the tournament including two against China in the quarter-finals were important in isolation, but his experience to drag his side up the pitch which we had seen in Brazil a year before was the critical aspect. Cahill may have not scored in the second match against Korea, this time in the final, but his influence on the whole tournament can’t be sniffed at, making it into my team of the tournament ahead of the likes of Ahmed Khalil and Son Heung-Min.
Since then, he’s once again been widely tipped for a phase out – and again, without too much luck. While his potential replacements (Burns, Juric etc.) have been experimented with, Cahill’s continues to be seen as the Socceroos big game player. It would be quite something if he featured at Russia 2018 at what he would then be 38 years of age, but it’s hard to see why they should change what isn’t broken as the frontman continues to hit the heights in front of goal, scoring 6 goals in his last four World Cup qualification matches of the year.
Domestically also he seems to be getting better rather than worse. After a big money move to China with Shanghai Shenhua straight after the Asian Cup, critics were quick to jump on a slump of a start which only saw him net once in his first three months of CSL action. However, he went on to more than meet expectations, taking his tally to 11 in the resulting 4 months, meeting any previous career best that he may have accrued with Everton or New York Red Bulls. Sadly for his home following, any potential fairy tale move back to Australia looks to have been extinguished as Shenhua opted to extend the striker’s contract by another year in October fresh off the back of his impressive run of form domestically.
Highlight of the Year: A stunning performance capped by one of the goals of the Asian Cup against China
Going into their quarter final with China, Australia were seen as only slight favourites given the opposition’s brilliant start to the tournament, and so proved the case as it remained deadlocked for a considerable time into the second period, only for Tim Cahill to turn on the class.
His first could be argued as one of the best goals ever scored at an Asian Cup, a sumptuous scorpion kick which ignited a fantastic spirit within the stadium, only to be set up a notch later on as Cahill, less spectacularly, but oozing with the same amount of predatory instinct headed home Australia’s second. It was the clear moment where fans and pundits alike sat up and noticed what a Postecoglou team could do, but importantly what a Cahill-led attack could offer.