Each week on Football FanCast we will be celebrating those special breed who lit up the Premier League with their unique brand of utter genius. This time out we pay homage to a star who eventually proved himself beyond measure.
Tim Cahill’s career, that spanned twenty years and saw him score more goals in the green and gold of Australia than anyone else, was initially grounded in, and later inspired by, external doubt.
“From the youngest age, I was told I was never going to be a professional football player,” the midfielder recently revealed, as quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald. “I was always the smallest in the team. I wasn’t as quick, so I knew very early on that I had to do more on and off the park to be recognised. I had to be smarter, I had to train harder.”
These doubts were not only reserved for his early days either. At Millwall the Sydney-born talent was consistently on another level to his team-mates and the Championship at large. He scored 57 goals for the Lions in six full seasons, a staggering sum for his position that necessitated late, timed runs into the box. In 2004 he was the driving force behind their unlikely adventure to the FA Cup final, putting in a one-man masterclass in the semi-final.
Yet time and again, summer after summer, Cahill was hailed as a Premier League star in waiting. And time and again, summer after summer, no top flight club stumped up the cash and committed to his signing.
Eventually of course David Moyes and Everton did, and from the off the 25-year-old tore into the top flight with an urgency to prove the sceptics and doubters wrong while displaying the same elite qualities that impressed in south London. He was all-action but precise. He was explosive but cute. By the end of his first season he had scooped Everton’s Player of the Year award. A year later he was one of fifty nominated for the Ballon d’Or.
In eight highly distinguished years at Goodison Park, Tim Cahill rose to the rank of captain, established himself as the Toffees’ most influential component, and scored so many cracking goals from midfield the nation’s corner flags developed nervous tics at his trademark celebration.
He was immense and consistently so. Was he one of the best of his ilk in the modern age? Undoubtedly so.
It is November 11th 2007 and Everton are toiling manfully at Stamford Bridge. They’re a goal behind and have wasted some rare and precious opportunities but this is a side that’s won their last five games and it shows. No heads drop, even as the clock ticks ever closer to added time.
With a minute to go James McFadden finds himself in space, out beyond the apex of the penalty area and due to late desperation tries his luck with a speculative shot. It’s blocked. It ricochets at pace into the six-yard box.
Cahill is there and he is right on top of Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini by virtue of typically timing a run hoping for a cross. When it didn’t arrive momentum carried him to this point, stationed a few mere steps from the goal-line and with Juliano Belletti for company too. The ball pings into the three of them and shoots up high into the air.
Some jostling takes place. Belletti frantically gets his bearings. He is unsure what to do in this situation while Cudicini correctly assesses he can’t do much more than retreat and set himself.
The ‘Blue Kangaroo’ meanwhile out-muscles the Chelsea full-back and readies himself, back to goal, whereupon he enacts a textbook over-head volley delivered with such force from close range that it almost smashes through the net.
The midfielder rises and runs away, fist clenched, to the ecstatic away contingent. At no stage does he even check to see if his missile has found its target. He is close enough to hear the fizz and the ripple; the groan of the crowd. There’s not a qualm in his head that for one more week his critics have been well and truly silenced.