19. Tim Cahill (Last Year: 15)
Melbourne City (AUS) / Australia / Midfield-Striker
Words by Martin Lowe
At the age of 37 years, you’d expect some regression in Tim Cahill’s footballing career. Based on the last couple years of successhowever, you’d have been foolish to ever write off the former Everton man. And so 2016 was no different, retaining his near essential status for the Socceroos squad supplemented with a triumphant return to Australia where he’s picked up his very first piece of domestic silverware.
Year on year, as I discussed 12 months ago, we’re assuming Australia will move on, not out of choice – the competition at centre forward remains pale in comparison – but by necessity, given Cahill’s winding down body. While this year saw a more limited role for him in Socceroo gold (only 3 appearances, all off the bench in WCQ Round 3), his impact remained critical to his nation’s desire to qualify for Russia 2018.
His record remains staggering given his changed role; this cycle he’s scored 9 in 10 appearances (five of which were off the bench), his latest and most important coming away in the Emirates. In sweltering conditions where neither side looked likely to develop a chance, off the bench Cahill was unleashed to gobble up what came his way, thanks to superior cross from Brad Smith to clinch the valuable three points.
At that stage, Australia threatened to be home and hosed by the end of the year, but have experienced wobbles and frustrated attacking displays that have put them back somewhat. Ange Postecoglou’s sparing use of Cahill off the bench could in the long run prove damaging.
While Cahill looked a greater threat than his replacements when he appeared against UAE and Japan, Postecoglou had to go without his services in November when they travelled to Thailand and his talisman was supposedly injured along with Jurić. In a match where very little was created (both Aussie goals came from the penalty spot), Timmy’s name would’ve been yelled at the screen from back home. Instead he was “spared” the trip due to a healing Achilles heal, in all likelihoods this was seen as a perfect time to blood the fresh new apprentice to the thrown Jamie Maclaren.
Away from the Socceroo spotlight, Cahill’s had a monumental year after switching China for Australia, to play in for the first time domestically, with the growingly powerful Melbourne City. His move couldn’t have been better written, after years of spurning chances of returning to Australia, when the chance comes, he goes to the side owned by the generally unpopular City Football Group.
Unpopular in the sense of new money and with it inevitable changes, and that type of disgruntlness has passed to Cahill, and how has he thrived on it. Every given away match, Cahill is treated to a round of boos, in the way a pantomime villain is treated. They love him for all his national team gems over the years; the Asian Cup win and that World Cup goal, but they still can hate him for going to the new boys in town.
His performances, as expected given his well renowned fighting spirit, have gone hand in hand with a combative A-League and the reception he receives. He’s been reverted back to a deep midfielder, to compromise for his lack of running over a season, but also to fit in skipper and top scorer Bruno Fornaroli.
By no means should this detract from his influence since his arrival in Melbourne. He’s notched five in 11 league matches, notching a further two in the FFA Cup including the winner against Sydney FC in the final, ensuring Cahill’s first triumph at club level. His emotional performances kicked in from the start, scoring on his first start against Western Sydney Wanderers in the cup, before adding another in his A-League debut against derby rivals Melbourne Victory.
Many questioned the team’s fit, with Fornaroli’s position at number 9 never in doubt. The fact Cahill has dug in, took the bench calls when needed and continued at such a high level of intensity and end product is highly admirable. It’d be foolish to write him off in 2017; so let’s all wait in anticipation as Cahill sets his sights on A-League Finals football and the Confederations Cup.
Highlight of the Year – Goal of the season contender in the Melbourne derby
For a striker that is worldly renowned for his heading ability and general grit, Tim Cahill does score at least one phenomenal effort each year. From the wonder volley against Holland in Brazil in 2014, to his exquisite bicycle kick against China at the Asian Cup in 2015, this past year had a lot to live up to.
He didn’t have to wait long for it, in his A-League debut in the Melbourne Derby no less, where all eyes were firmly fixed on him (Fox Sports even deployed a red button option to follow Cahill around for the 90 minutes, rarely used for A-League games), the man for the big occasion stood up.
After a loose ball was left bouncing just past the centre circle, Cahill used what speed he has over a short distance to volley instinctively over the despairing Victory keeper. It was a strike of technique, vision but also guts; a real signal of his return to Australia.
As Cahill made a triumphant exit in the second period, the broadcasters only later realised the player-focus-cam was still on. No doubt they’ll have been plenty of Socceroo fans still transfixed with his triumphant face long after he was substituted.