How Cahill’s Millwall move puts him on the road to Russia

Nobody knows how to write a script quite like Tim Cahill. He’s been doing it for 20 years and so it’s only natural that the last page in his book will end like a fairy tale.

Harris, Cahill

Millwall manager Neil Harris (L) and Tim Cahill Source: Millwall FC - Official Website

That’s if everything goes to plan. But then again, who’d be backing against him? We’ve never seen an Australian footballer who mixes unlimited self-belief with an unbreakable can-do attitude – and his record speaks for itself.

At 38, most footballers of his age are ex-footballers, coaches, pundits or in other businesses. If it seems weird that Luke Wilkshire has been touted for a Socceroos’ recall, he’s two years younger than Cahill. That’s been Cahill’s greatest masterstroke: age is a millstone for others but a footnote for him.

Cahill’s decision to join Millwall – speculated upon since the moment he announced he was leaving Melbourne City – is no great surprise. They would appear to need each other as much as the other.

He requires games and lots of them. No clubs anywhere in the world play more games than those in The Championship, and the Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday slog so common in the second tier means he’s going to get all the minutes he wants.

The theory that Cahill isn’t a 90-minute player has been disproven, too, because every Australian will remember what he did against Syria, scoring two decisive goals and playing all 120 minutes of the second leg.
However, the counter-balance to that theory is that he’s played a sum total of 94 A-League minutes in eight months and it’s been even longer since he was viewed as a starter. As usual, the truth may lie in between.

Irrespective of this past year, it’s all ahead of Australia’s greatest ever player. He has four months to turn it all around.

There’s three tasks in that time: one, to break into Millwall’s starting side or become their most important substitute. Two, to start scoring goals. Three, convince new Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk to take him to Russia.

He doesn’t need fitness – he is an athletic beast with a training regime to die for – and Dr Craig Duncan, the nation’s leading football fitness expert, has been guiding him since he left City. But he does need those minutes, so it will be interesting to see how quickly Millwall throw him in.

Initially, Cahill will start behind Lee Gregory, Steve Morison and Aiden O'Brien in the pecking order, but none have been especially prolific – that midfielder George Saville has scored the most goals (seven) probably speaks to the need for more firepower in attack.

Millwall, a team forever oscillating between The Championship and League One, look safe from relegation this year but have a record that’s in keeping with the recent history – an average of 1.18 goals per game scored and the same number conceded.

It’s dour going at The Den, but survival is a worthy aim considering how tough the Championship is these days and the calibre of the clubs currently in a relegation battle – Reading, Bolton, Hull City, Sunderland and Birmingham were all Premier League clubs in recent memory.

Signing Cahill will not only give them another striker but a spiritual boost. You couldn’t wish for a more determined training ground presence or a more infectious dressing room figure. He’ll give everyone a lift and the fans will give him a rapturous reception every time he plays.

Will all this be enough to impress van Marwijk? You might think he'd be inclined to look elsewhere, but having been in charge of Saudi Arabia, and having seen so many of Australia’s games, the Dutchman will be all too aware.

His remit isn’t to pick Cahill for the sake of it – it is to make the second round of the FIFA World Cup. But if Australia just happened to need a goal against any of France, Denmark or Peru in the final 30 minutes, who else would you want sitting on your bench?

It’s not a given that Cahill gets selected for his fourth World Cup. He knows that. Van Marwijk knows that. But if his spell in South Bermondsey goes well, this extraordinary book may not be done with just yet.

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4 min read
Published 30 January 2018 at 2:46pm
By Sebastian Hassett