Opinion

Aussie Asia Legends: Tim Cahill - Lasting legacies in China, India

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Tim Cahill did things his way. He had eight excellent years in the Premier League and then took his talents to two of the world’s deepest sleeping giants - China and India.

He is extremely well thought of in both countries.

One of the biggest names from the history of the Asian Football Confederation, Cahill did enough in his time in the Middle Kingdom to show Shanghai Shenhua fans that big-name foreign players can roll up their sleeves with the best of them. 

The ex-Everton man arrived in Shanghai in 2015, another famous player to turn out for one of Asia’s most interesting teams.

After the debacle of the Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba signings in 2012 and all kinds of behind the scenes shenanigans, Cahill was seen as a more solid addition from the start. 

“Fans were happy with the signing,” Bi Yuan of Titan Sports told The World Game.

Supporters had recently seen Cahill in action and it had led to hopes that he was the answer to some weaknesses in the team. 

“One month before Tim Cahill's double sank China in the Asian Cup,” Bi said.

“In 2014, Shenhua scored only 33 goals in 30 Chinese Super League matches and they lacked a reliable foreign striker to partner with Giovanni Moreno.

"Shenhua fans understood that the signing did not have the calibre of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka - but that he would be a useful addition overall.” 

Cahill worked hard from the get-go but initially the goals did not flow quite as quickly as the energy and passion.

“It took some time for him to settle and his second goal came in late June but he kept scoring since then and reached 11 goals, the top scorer of the team.”

The arrival of former Newcastle and Chelsea striker Demba Ba later in the season helped. 

”That could be the reason he improved - he could play in his favorite position as a second striker behind the Senegalese target man.”

”Overall, he effectively strengthened Shenhua's attacking line and they finished sixth, their best finish for five years and they also advanced to the final of the China Cup.” 

According to Bi, it wasn’t the goals so much as the spirit.

“He may not have been among the biggest names that came in the Chinese Super League spree, as he came at the age of 35.

"Shanghai Shenhua were particularly impressed by his mentality and professional spirit. He played in different positions in Shenhua but never complained.

"His hard-working playing style is respected by the club. In the game against Guangzhou Evergrande in May he broke his nose but wore a face mask in the next match."

It was this kind of professional attitude that marked the Australian out from some of the other big names who went to China.

“Apart from being a key goalscorer, Cahill played a leader role for young players in the dressing room.” 

It was the same in India. Cahill signed for Jamshedpur in September 2018 and while he did not play many games for the Super League team, he made an impact before retiring from football in March 2019. 

Fans in eastern India were delighted when Cahill signed.

“[When we heard] it was definitely a moment of wonder as we all were amazed to know the fact that a World Cup player and a legend would be donning our colours,” said SK Imran of The Red Miners, Jamshedpur’s official fan club. 

“We didn't get to see him in action much due to injury, but whenever he was on the ground the fans were definitely on their toes as we eagerly waited for that signature kangaroo boxing celebration and he did treat us with that twice at our home ground, the Furnace.” 

One of those strikes stands out.

“His flying header against Delhi Dynamos at the Furnace in front of more than 22,000 fans. We all went crazy after that goal and then came his trademark boxing celebration. What a goal it was.” 

Perhaps his biggest contribution came elsewhere. 

“He stayed after training and gave local players important tips.

"Also, he made sure that there's a healthy mentality in the dressing room always. 

"We, Jamshedpur FC fans, loved him more as a mentor/coach than as a player, we could clearly see the effect he had on the local as well as the young players.

"So Tim would be welcomed very warmly if he decides to take up the coaching job at JFC any time.”