The wait for Tim Cahill

I spent Tuesday night standing in the rain at Marrickville’s Mackey Park, waiting for Tim Cahill.

Tim Cahill

Source: Getty Images

I can’t recall how many times I’ve uttered those last four words in the past decade - it feels like we're now into triple figures.

Press conferences. Press briefings. Mixed zones. Launches. Soft launches. One-on-ones. Phone interviews. Openings. Closings. Signing sessions. Boot deals. Hot places (Dubai and Doha) and cold places (Porto Alegre and Nelspruit).


So yes, I know what it’s like to wait for Timmy. That’s definitely not a knock on the bloke – it’s just a sign of how much he’s in demand.

And he is in great demand. More than ever, in fact. For a 36-and-a-half year old, that’s extraordinary.

The rise of “Tiny Tim” – a spring-heeled jack at Millwall – to the Tim Cahill Inc. of today still fascinates me: moreover, an extraordinary ability to reinvent himself.

He is a one-man army; and a promotional militia at that. His fame now exceeds Harry Kewell’s – by some margin – and is the only Socceroo to ever achieve absolute multi-generational cut-through. There isn’t a man, woman or child in this country who doesn’t know his deeds.

That you all know. But it’s time to end the charade about the A-League. The sooner we get a decision, the better.

The longer it drags out, the longer it dangles there, the more damage it does. Not so much to him – he’s almost bulletproof – but the A-League.

It’s like waiting for an unrequited love and we all know how those end. Eventually, you have to move on and stop hoping. That point has been reached.

I get why he doesn’t want to come back. It’s a big gamble for him, with a payoff that isn’t guaranteed.

There’s a risk that under the prying eyes of the Australian public, should he take any false steps, he’ll get ripped apart by the tabloid press and on social media.

As a nation, we excel at this practice. We see someone earning big dollars, struggling to find their feet and – bam – they’re a waste of money.

Unless of course they happen to do a Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Folau or Buddy Franklin, in which case the millions they make seem well-earned, and we celebrate them for it.

But those guys are in their prime. And, outside Greg Norman, Cahill has probably invested more time and effort into sculpting his personal “brand” than any other Australian athlete in history.

He wants to create an image that keeps selling well into his retirement. Just like all the greats: David Beckham, Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, Arnold Palmer, Pele and so on.

That’s his dream – and who can blame him? He’s doing more than anyone else to make it a reality.

That he’s still playing and scoring frequently for the Socceroos just keeps adding weight to the word association he wants with his surname: record-breaking, ever-lasting, odds-defying.

But what if he came to the A-League and did as he was doing in China right now? He’s scored three goals in 11 games at a club that’s one point off last place.

Say what you like, but he’d be answering a whole lot of tough questions if that was the scenario unfolding in the A-League.

They’re questions that would affect the brand and offend the mythology. And questions that could affect what he values most: his place in the Socceroos’ team.

And so if Football Federation Australia and the A-League clubs really want Cahill – and I mean really, really want him - they’ll have to go to him with a package that answers these questions.

It’s about money, yes, but even more about protecting the brand. And building it.

He doesn’t have to come back here. Does he owe the A-League anything? Not really – his contributions to the national team have already paid back the game so many times over.

But the FFA and the “big boss man” Cahill referred to – that’s David Gallop, in case you missed it – must come to the party. Besides, the automatic rise of interest in the A-League from commercial television networks could be a major catalyst for the next TV deal.

Deep down, we want Cahill here. In spite of all the carry on that has existed to this point. In spite of the histrionics. It's better to have him here than not. Much better.

He’s got genuine box office appeal, something the A-League is crying out for. One way or another, we’ve waited long enough.

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5 min read
Published 2 June 2016 at 4:47pm
By Sebastian Hassett