THE word legacy probably appeared a little too often in association with Tim Cahill over the final years of his international career. In part, that was due to its use as the title of his autobiography.
Just as importantly, however, was his longevity on the international stage — he was simply around for so long, we (and he) had plenty of time to think about how he would be remembered.
Cahill’s Socceroos career spanned 14 years (it would have been closer to 20 had he not represented Samoa as a junior), 107 caps, 50 goals, four World Cups and three Asian Cups. He scored at seven of those eight major tournaments, and in total, netted against 29 different nations. They are a remarkable set of statistics by anyone’s reckoning — it will be a fair while before they are surpassed.
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Tim wasn’t the most gifted of players to represent his country. His tackling was sometimes rash, his link play (in the later years particularly) sporadic. He wasn’t tall or quick, and on occasion, his public pronouncements grated, as they seemed to be preoccupied with the aforementioned “legacy” more than anything else.
But in the fullness of time, those flaws will be forgotten — because love him or loathe him, you cannot deny Cahill is the best-ever Socceroo. In terms of natural ability, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka would both finish comfortably ahead, but for sheer impact he has no equal.
How many times were Australia saved by Timmy’s goals? How many of Australia’s big moments over the last decade DIDN’T have Cahill involved somewhere? To score half a century at international level is no accident, despite how freakish it would seem when he popped up with yet another game-changing goal.
Those moments were the result of a lifetime of dedication, of honing his craft as a penalty-box predator. Of wringing every single drop out of the talents he did possess, which more than made up for those he lacked.
His aerial prowess of course, will be the main part of his story. It is now well documented that former Socceroo Johnny Doyle (among others) spent countless hours perfecting the Cahill “leap” using bio-mechanics and drills that, in combination with the strength work done on his lower body, allowed Timmy the spring, timing and technique, that produced many of those now famous goals.
Yet strangely, the two goals that made him most famous were both hit with his feet. The double strike against Japan at the 2006 World Cup turned Tim into a celebrity Down Under, and this is — in my opinion — his greatest gift to the game in Australia.
Cahill’s name (in this country at least) is now synonymous with the sport, in the same way Greg Norman’s is with golf, and Cathy Freeman’s is with athletics. Even those with only a fleeting knowledge of football (and sadly, that is still far too many in Australia) know who Tim Cahill is.
In fact, for many, he is probably the only Socceroo they could name — hence why there was such a clamour for him to play during the World Cup in Russia. That irritated a few who knew his powers were on the wane, but it was also a tribute to his success.
I had the privilege of calling 38 of his 50 international goals on national television for Fox Sports, and, in his earlier days, SBS. To have the honour of commentating some of his most important strikes — moments that had such impact on the nation — is something I will never forget, and will always treasure. Tim was even good enough to write the foreword for my own autobiography, even though we had a little fallout (as players and journalists tend to do from time to time), in South Africa in 2010. That’s the measure of the man.
My favourite moment? It has to be the equaliser against Japan in 2006 in Kaiserslautern, closely followed by the second that followed. Two moments in time that catapulted the Socceroos into the mainstream, and cemented Tim’s name in the hearts of Australian football fans everywhere. It’s difficult, even 12 years on, to describe the euphoria of being in the Fritz Walter Stadion at that particular point in time. I think every other Australian probably knows where they were too. It’s freeze-framed in our heads, for life.
And so, what now?
It’s interesting Cahill has left the door open to continuing his club career by only announcing his international retirement. Perhaps he’s not quite ready to give the game up yet?
But when that day comes — and it surely cannot be far off — then it’s to be hoped he will not only stay involved in football in this country, but be fundamental to its growth. The game needs legends like Tim — and many others of the golden generation (and even further back) — to be at the forefront. In truth, their knowledge, their expertise, their profile, is being wasted by being left on the sidelines.
In the meantime, let me be one of the first to say “thanks for the memories” Tim.
You may only be 5 feet 9 inches tall, but in football terms in Australia, you are the giant that stands above all others. Your legacy is secure.