How Cahill became Australia’s biggest Asian star


Asia didn’t know much about Tim Cahill as June 12, 2006 dawned. It is doubtful that the Japanese fans I met early that Monday morning at Frankfurt station drinking big bottles of beer had pinpointed the then Everton man as one to be wary of.

By early evening however, as the bars of Kaiserslautern rocked to the sounds of ‘Men at Work’, the Sydneysider had written his name across the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

It was the first game I attended at that competition and probably the most memorable.

When he came off the bench early in the second half, Japan were a goal to the good and as time continued to tick, the Socceroos were starting to run out of ideas.

Then there were six minutes of madness and a new star was born.

A flash in the pan, it was not. Cahill went on to become one of the biggest names in Asian football in the 21st century.

The likes of Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka may have had more talent and, certainly in the case of the former, had a more glamorous club career, but their impact in Asia after Australia joined the AFC was fleeting. Not Cahill.

At the 2006 World Cup, we saw the last appearance of a number of old icons.

That competition saw the passing of a generation with Hidetoshi Nakata of Japan, Saudi Arabia’s Sami Al Jaber and Ali Daei of Iran all bowing out.

Cahill was part of a new generation that shone in Germany. Park Ji-sung was leading South Korea’s charge, Japan’s Shunsuke Nakamura was there as was Ali Karimi with Iran.

Now that generation too is fading. They will look back at fine careers. Cahill too, and as much as anyone, he has cemented his place in Asia’s legends club.

Cahill has rewritten scripts, ended dreams and broken hearts all over the continent over the years.

He was there saving the Socceroos’ bacon in the opening game of the 2007 Asian Cup with an injury-time equaliser against Oman.

He was there again in the 2011 tournament and then helped deliver the title four years later in front of home fans in Sydney.

It was not just in the glamour games when he made a difference. He did the hard yards jetting around the massive continent.

There were all the appearances and goals in the various qualification campaigns for the World Cups in 2010, 2014 and then 2018. On the Asian stage, Cahill was as energetic as any player has been.

And then Cahill has done something else with his club career.

After successful years in the Premier League, he came to Asia, with a spell in New York thrown in. His time in the A-League was mixed but he sought out new frontiers and challenges.

China was a major one and Cahill showed Shanghai Shenhua fans the kind of effort, commitment to the cause and goalscoring ability that more talented imports had not always managed to bring to the city.

The Blue Devils that packed into one end of the Hongkou Stadium loved him and were upset when he was suddenly cut loose.

It all ended in India, in the northeastern city of Jamshedpur - a destination unlikely for some but not in this case - helping a new team adapt to life in the Indian Super League.

The club has appreciated how Cahill brought a level of professionalism that has inspired other players and given them a glimpse of how to best prepare for games.

Obviously, fans in the subcontinent were not treated to the energy and the all round dynamism that the player possessed at his peak.

Opposition supporters were spared much of the general air of danger that he carried around on the pitch but it was still there in glimpses.

Last June, it was strange to see Australia without their talisman. It is something that it going to be the norm. There are to be no more bullet headers or spectacular volleys to witness and no more corner flags to be punched.

Asian football will be the poorer for the absence of Cahill.