Flame still burns for father figure Cahill

It’s a sign of the times, and how they stand still for no man, that at this FIFA World Cup Tim Cahill’s best performances might be reserved for off the field.

Competing against three other strikers for game time as he chases a place in footballing immortality as a goalscorer at four World Cups, Cahill’s ambitions still burn bright at the age of 38.

But, with 40 minutes so far in Bert van Marwijk’s four-game reign and 60 in six months at Millwall with the clock ticking down on his magnificent career, it may be a case of Cahill the mentor, rather than the emperor during Australia’s campaign in Russia.

Revered by teammates, young and old, and a father figure to young guns like Daniel Arzani, Cahill is fighting the dying of the light when it comes to on-field influence.

At a packed press conference ahead of Saturday’s Group C opener against France in Kazan, Cahill gave a gripping symposium detailing his football journey, and how he plans to plant his flag atop one last peak.

He insisted he’s not in Russia to make up the numbers and is still learning new football tricks under his third Dutch football tutor, van Marwijk.

He spoke of his “selfishness” in preparing for 12 months for three games in June - France, Denmark and Peru.

It would be foolhardy for anybody to doubt that, given the chance, he might still summon a final miracle.

Whether he’ll be afforded the opportunity to deliver one is the question.

If teams were picked on passion, reputation, single-mindedness and oratory skills, Cahill would be the first name on the team-sheet start against France.

It’s hard not to buy into the romance of his final voyage on the international stage, and what he might still yet offer, albeit off the bench.

A year ago he was Australia’s best player as they produced their most telling performance at the Confederations Cup to hold Chile to a 1-1 draw.

Eight months back his double sunk Syria to keep Australia on course for Russia - his umpteenth rescue act for his country.

Cahill has kept his fitness levels ticking over despite the lack of match minutes, and sees only what he can add to the team, not what missing out might mean.

“For me, I’ve always made calculated decisions for myself and my family,” he said.

“I’m not fazed by outside noise. As a professional you have to hit certain levels of physical data that gets you to where I’m sitting today.

“I’m older and wiser ... I’ve not missed a training session, and it’s been intense.

“I like being at the top of the class when it comes to being physically and mentally ready.

“You guys can look at it as game time but I’ve been lucky - I’ve spent a whole year getting ready for three games.

“Selfish as it might sound, I’ve always put my country first.

“As a leader you do all you can to protect players and make sure they make the right decisions on and off the park.

“And also to help guide them to make your country win. When players respect me it’s because I put time and effort into them.

“I’ve always been a leader. I like making people comfortable around me. If you’re playing in my team I’ll do anything for you on and off the pitch.

“With Arzani, I didn’t have that explosive talent but I had hard work and now [I need] to infuse that discipline into his life.”

Though competing with the young legs of Andrew Nabbout, Tomi Juric and Jamie Maclaren for game time, Cahill’s effervescence is undimmed.

“If I get on that pitch, I’ll try and try to make something happen. There’s excitement just to be out there and after that I’m in a different world,” he added.

Cahill gave an insight into working with the Dutch coaches down the years.

“With Guus Hiddink in 2006 he got us prepared so well but he had his ways and there was no other way.

“Pim Verbeek (in 2010) was very laid back and relaxed and now you have Bert.

“When he walks into a room he has a presence but he also has a softness about him which players can relate to.

“His coaching simplifies things. You’d think at 38 you can’t learn but whether it’s a passing exercise, breaking lines or understanding weaknesses within teams, I’m thankful that I am here becoming a better player.”

He’s also been schooling the likes of Arzani on how to deal with monster moments.

“When you play on the big stage you can get cramp after an hour, the legs go weak, you become numb and the mind goes fuzzy,” he added.

“You can’t practice for that ... hopefully against France these guys will be so relaxed that we can catch them off guard.”

And how does he characterise his place in van Marwijk’s ecosystem?

“I’m ready to go whenever. I mentor and push (the other strikers) but I’m not here to make up the numbers.

“Five minutes or 95 minutes I enjoy playing football ... there’s no pressure on me.”

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5 min read
Published 14 June 2018 at 8:47pm
By Dave Lewis