Sport

COMMENT

Tim Cahill risking his legacy in battle with the A-League

Michael Cockerill

Can the A-League get by without Tim Cahill? I would've thought so. But I seem to be in the minority. Judging by the hysteria of the last fortnight, getting Cahill back to the A-League next season will be its salvation. Really?

Let me say this. Cahill is our greatest Socceroo. Not in terms of talent, but in terms of longevity, durability, and performance. Trouble is, it looks as though he's believing his own publicity, and it pains me to say that. The name of his book? 'Legacy'. I always thought that was for others to decide.

Wellington in, Cahill out

The Phoenix granted a ten year lease. But it wasn't all good news as the A-League missed out on Socceroo Tim Cahill.

Good luck to 'Timmay' for all he has achieved, and earned, in a career which started when he took the hard road and left Sydney as a teenager. We will be forever grateful for what he has done for the Socceroos in three World Cups. I guess the question is exactly how grateful.

Cahill has tip-toed around the edges of playing in the A-League for several seasons. Nothing has ever got past first base. Those who have been engaged in these discussions suggest his demands are out of the ball park. Cahill, for his part, refers to a lack of 'vision'.

High hopes: Socceroos talisman Tim Cahill.
High hopes: Socceroos talisman Tim Cahill. Photo: Melissa Adams

Friction, of course, is a normal part of any negotiation. No deals have been reached, and yet the friction still seems to be growing by the month, if not the week. Nobody wins in this war or words, least of all Cahill. He's risking his aura, and in the long run that's worth a lot more than money.

The truth is, Sydney FC did make two lucrative offers to bring him home, one in writing. Both of them were rejected. So Cahill got on with his life in New York, and more recently in China. The A-League? Well it's survived - and on some levels flourished - without him. In an ideal world, that's how it would end. It just wasn't meant to be.

But no. Cahill will again be on the market mid-year, so this is one story which refuses to go away. Get ready for months of spruiking on Cahill's behalf, and months of diplomatic replies from club land and the FFA. Nobody seems willing to call it as it is.

Cahill will be 37 by the end of the year. Three years ago, he would have been a game-changer for the A-League, both on and off the field. Next season? Let's just say the clock is ticking. It doesn't mean he won't keep up, but to meet all the expectations he'll have to run very fast.

If Cahill does strike an A-League deal - and Melbourne City is a rumoured destination - then he's is in danger of joining a depressingly long line of Socceroos who came home past their used-by date. When they'd run out of decent options elsewhere, and - in a couple of celebrated cases - when they'd failed medicals elsewhere. Jason Culina was a notable exception, and has never been given the credit he deserved for his leap of faith. But for the vast majority of the so-called 'Golden Generation', retirement in the A-League eventually arrived with a lack of dignity, and a hint of bitterness. Does Cahill really need to take the risk?

The mindset of this entitled group is that they're "giving back" to the game simply by coming home. Any criticism, especially of their on-field performance, is deemed a lack of respect. The source of the confusion is obvious. For most of their careers these players only come home to play for the Socceroos, where the support, on the whole, is unflinching. Of course it's a completely different dynamic playing in the A-League, where the scrutiny is more parochial, and more intense.

Cahill has been an enormous contributor to the Socceroos, and I respect that. But he's also got plenty in return. Without the green and gold shirt, he'd have a fraction of the profile. And speaking of green and gold shirts, Cahill nominally receives 70 per cent (he could choose to donate the proceeds to the player pool) of the net profit of any Socceroos jersey sold with his name on the back. So who needs who?

I'd love to have seen Cahill in the A-League after he left Everton. I'd have been intrigued to see Cahill in the A-League after he left New York Red Bulls. I'm not so sure I want to see him in the A-League when he leaves Hangzhou Greentown in six months time. It's too big a risk.

For his own sake - and he's deadly serious about kicking on to the 2018 World Cup - isn't it better he finishes off his career in China, or perhaps the Middle East, where the threat to his aura, his stature, is vastly diminished? There, it's just business.

Here, it's much more than that. Perhaps only one member of the 'Golden Generation' truly understood this, and he was the captain. Mark Viduka, a genuine class act.

0 comments