Cahill an Asian legend as much as an Australian one


It will be strange to have an AFC Asian Cup without Tim Cahill but the veteran will still be active on the continent in January.

For Australia's record goalscorer does not just punch corner flags but, in the latter stages of his career, has been trying to help Asia's sleeping giants rouse themselves through goals, dedication and professionalism.

While Cahill received bucketloads of praise and plaudits in Sydney earlier this month as he said goodbye to the Socceroos against Lebanon, his retirement has not gone unnoticed in Asia, where he is highly regarded due to his exploits for Australia and his time playing in China and, now, India.

"If there is a player like Tim Cahill available then as a coach, you have to be interested. He has everything you want as a coach," Korea Republic legend Hong Myong-bo told The World Game when asked about signing the Australian in February 2016 when head coach of Chinese Super League club Hangzhou Greentown.

Hong, who appeared at four FIFA World Cups, knows a leader when he sees one. "He wants to be as good as possible and he wants the same from everyone else. This is very important."

Cahill's Asian adventures started out at Shanghai Shenhua in 2015.

It took the former Everton man a little time to settle at the Hongkou but once he did, fans fell in love with the never-say-die attitude of the import.

In 2012, Shanghai made headlines around the world after signing Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba. Cahill meant more.

William Bi, a journalist with leading Chinese media organisation Titan Sports, believes that it wasn't the 11 goals that Cahill scored that had fans falling for him as much as the way he played.

"What was more impressive for fans was Cahill's professionalism - he worked 120 per cent in every game he played and never stopped moving even without the ball," Bi said.

"He had an impeccable professional attitude."

Despite Shanghai’s reputation in China as a city that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, that can't be said of Shenhua fans.

The Blue Devils that gather behind the goal love nothing more than hotpot and cold beer before the game and a player who gives everything during it.

So there was surprise when he was released by the club - announcing his own departure on social media - just weeks after signing a new contract at the start of the 2016 season.

There were rumours that his comments in the Australian media criticising the Chinese spending spree that was at its zenith at the time resulted in the chop. Whatever it was, fans were unhappy.

At the time, I talked to a member of the Blue Devils.

"Even though he is Australian, Cahill was one of us," Dong Mei said.

"In every game he gave everything. It was like having a fan on the pitch fighting for us. Fans can't believe that the club would release him. We have had so many foreign players that have come and gone without making an impact so to lose Cahill is an unpopular decision."

Clubs in South Korea, where Cahill had been known as 'The Japan Killer' due to his two late goals in that 2006 FIFA World Cup match, and Japan were immediately interested.

The veteran instead moved to Hangzhou for a short spell before heading back home for some A-League action.

He left China loved by Shenhua fans and respected by all others.

Now he is in India, a country not far behind China in terms of population but further back in terms of football.

The Middle Kingdom has appeared at a FIFA World Cup, the final of the Asian Cup and has one of the top leagues outside Europe.

Cricket is clearly number one in India though the Indian Super League, established in 2014, has been reasonably successful.

The league has imported its fair share of aging veterans in its short history but few have been as dedicated as Cahill.

Cahill signed for a Jamshedpur, located not far to the west of Kolkata.

The club, in its second-ever season, has an average attendance of over 20,000 - it is a fine place to play.

Closing in on his 39th birthday, Cahill may be slowing down but is playing his part as the club looks to reach the end of season play-off finals. Again, his influence is felt in more fields than one.

"Tim is very professional athlete and sets a good example to local players on and off the pitch," said Steve Darby, former assistant at Mumbai.

"He relates to the fans very well, the Indian fans have related to him very well particularly on social media. You know he will always give 100 per cent whenever he gets on the pitch which fans appreciate."

Cahill has been appreciated wherever he has been and Asia is no exception.