After a professional career spanning across three decades, Tim Cahill continues to succeed at the top level for both his club and country.
Ahead of his premiere in FOCUS, a six-part series airing on Fox Sports, Cahill spoke with The Roar.
The Roar: It’s been just over 12 months now since you made the decision to leave Goodison Park, and the EPL, to move to New York. You would have had the option of moving to another EPL club, or another top European league. What drove your decision to move to the US, and how hard was it to make the switch?
Tim Cahill: I think there’s so many different factors you have to look at as a footballer. I sat down with my agent, David Moyes, the chairman of Everton – the influential people in my career who have helped pave the way for what I’ve done.
The elements I had to take into account first of all was the World Cup in Brazil, and the qualifying phase in Asia, which is over months and months of a campaign.
Then I had to question the fitness, and the level that I required to play internationally and domestically for so long at such a high level, and keep the standards to the maximum.
The option of staying at Everton was fantastic because I still had two years-plus left on my deal, I was obviously playing for a massive club, I had numerous Premier League clubs, European and Middle East clubs making some big-money offers which were very tempting.
But I had travelled to America with the last eight years with Everton, and we’ve played on numerous occasions against MLS teams and I had played in probably six different MLS stadiums.
I had actually trained at LA Galaxy’s facilities with Phil Neville during the week going into the preseason for Everton when I left.
We spent a week there watching them train, the facilities, and it was really intriguing.
The MLS has so much infrastructure. The stadium, for example of the Red Bulls is a $300m development just for soccer, a state-of-the-art training facility.
We have ex-Monaco president Jerome de Bontin, Gerard Houllier at the helm and Andy Roxburgh, one of the most influential people in football, who run the club.
You have Thierry Henry, and you have a great, great backbone in the league.
You see the money that’s pumped into the league, the other night 67,000 supporters for the Seattle-Portland game, the Red Bulls’ crowds are building as well.
I thought for me personally that it was a really easy decision. I sat with David Moyes, I told him my scenario, he knows how fond I am of playing for my country and look, a year ago, a year-and-a half ago we didn’t know whether we were going to qualify for the World Cup.
It’s been 12 months since and so far, the plan is going fantastic. My body’s brilliant, we’ve qualified for another World Cup, I’ve played an important part with being part of the group and contributing to that, and at the same time I’m working on projects off the park with my grassroots program with Foxtel All-Stars across the whole of Australia.
You have decisions in life and I suppose I’ve looked five years ahead when making that decision a year-and-a-half ago, and the decision that I’ve made is just an amazing one.
I’m so blessed that the decision is going to plan and I’ve got my eye on a third consecutive World Cup in my lifetime.
Q: So the Socceroos’ 2014 World Cup campaign was a driving factor in your decision, being able to get to Brazil in 12 months’ time?
A: Most definitely. You see the standard of the Premier League, and I was playing non-stop for eight years, I probably had six years in a row where I didn’t have a proper holiday, going all the way back playing back in the Olympic Games in Athens, to World Cup qualifiers, to World Cup, to Asian Cups, another World Cup and another Asian Cup.
The thing is, you go to a league like the MLS, you’re going to be one of the highest-paid players, and you’re going to be a massive icon in such a broad league with so many fans, I wanted to come at a good age, so I came at the age of 32.
I’m doing a lot of great stuff on and off the park and at the same time it’s letting me play to another World Cup.
It’s letting me travel to Japan, travel to these countries throughout Asia and the Middle East, and basically give my all.
I sat down with Holger and we spoke about it and I spoke to Holger again last week and the thing is you have to take into consideration your body, your age, what you want to do as a footballer.
When I had such influential people at the time – I spoke with my agent first, and then David Moyes, then I rang the chairman, then I spoke to Holger, then I spoke to Mikel Arteta and then I spoke to Phil Neville.
It was very quiet, I did everything very silently, and when I made the announcement it was a shock that rocked a lot of people, who were quite surprised.
I probably could still play in the Premier League, but at the moment the method to the madness is I that I want to be in peak condition for international and domestic football coming to the next World Cup in Brazil.
Q: Do you feel that the decision to switch to New York has been the right one, or is it too early to say?
A: No, it’s unbelievable. I’m living a dream, living in New York with my family and at the same time playing with one of the biggest superstars the world has ever seen in Thierry Henry. I’m working with some of the best coaches, in the best facilities.
The standard of the way we get looked after as Red Bull athletes and New York Red Bull players, I’ve never seen anything like it, it’s exceptional.
It’s something that has me gobsmacked, and you can understand with the calibre of players that are coming over now. When any team comes to the Red Bulls, or even fans, they can see the amount of effort that gets put in, and there is no cent spared for fans and for players.
For me it is really unique, being part of the MLS All-Stars, being part of the Red Bull brand, flying the flag for Australia in New York – it’s fantastic. I definitely know in my mind it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
It was amazing when I signed for Everton and when I first signed for Millwall, but this is another chapter in my life that I want to make special. I know deep down inside that the way my form’s been and the way the football has been going that it’s been the perfect thing for me.
Q: How has being a part of the FOCUS series helped you to understand the decision and how you feel about it?
The FOCUS series has been fantastic to work with Red Bull and Fox Sports on something that is so unique and with so many great athletes that are involved in this.
It’s getting inside a player’s mind, an athlete’s mind, on and off the park. The mental toughness of what you of through as a player and how you separate that as an athlete and as a human being.
For me this is probably one of the most exciting things I’ve worked on in awhile, and I’ve done a lot of TV.
Just because you question yourself at the same time, and I think through the series you can see moments that affect you as an athlete or the way you overcome them, and the way you deal with things.
The FOCUS launch is something that I’m excited about, and I hope that not only athletes can relate to it but also everyday people get an understanding about me and the vast workrate I have to put in.
Everyone says ‘it’s just the MLS’, but it’s a tough league and definitely something that you have to be physically and mentally fit for, or you can get definitely get lost in it.
Q: It’s been 15 years since you debuted with Millwall and as you touched on before it has been pretty relentless at times in terms of not having a break. What is it that continues to motivate you after 15 years?
A: What is motivating me now is the prize of the World Cup – the prize of being 33 years old, and still being in peak condition to really do something special for your country, to fly the flag like that.
I suppose the hunger for me is the Asian Cup in 2015 in Australia as well, being that player that the country turns to get the right results.
I’m excited, the best thing about it for me is I’m living in one of the greatest cities in the world, and I’m enjoying my football.
The way they look after me here with the physios and doctors and anything that I need, I definitely know I’m a player that is going to be around for awhile, I’ll probably play on until I’m probably 38 in this league.
It’s great when you see players like Juninho at 38 years old coming here, and still the body is in peak condition, even now when he’s gone back to Vasco da Gama and is still knocking in goals.
It gives you so much confidence and inspiration to just drive as much as you can with your body, and also to live an amazing lifestyle in the capital of the world.
Q: How would you compare the training environment to what you had experienced at Everton and Millwall, and what is it like working with the players of Thierry Henry and Juninho’s quality?
A: First of all, there’s 13 different nationalities in my team, from Japan to different African nations, to all over the world, which is just unique for a footballer. I thought there were a lot of nationalities at Everton when I played there, but it’s very diverse here.
To play with Thierry Henry and to train is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life, because now I can understand why he’s won everything and why he’s done everything.
He’s a perfectionist, he’s a professional, and he’s taught me so much, not just on the park but off the park. He’s 36 years old and still flying, he’s still doing really well.
I know the levels of what I need to do, I know how to taper my body, I know the way his training schedules are, I know basically everything he does.
Being close to the mind of a genius, and watching him train, is the best thing. I might take half an hour off after training just to watch him doing shooting practice, just trying to learn anything I can and see what he does, and when I execute it in the game I’m really happy.
To be on the same pitch as him, to have that chemistry, and to play with a massive team in New York Red Bulls is for me definitely a highlight of my career. At the same time, working with Juninho, working with the staff, the staff of Red Bull, it’s the highest of the highest.
It’s why you play football; you play football for experiences, and to play with great players and to play at the highest level you can for as long as possible. I’m really, really fortunate to be part of such a professional set-up and also to play with some top quality players.
Q: We saw David Carney sign for the Red Bulls earlier this month. Did he consult you before signing, and if he did what advice did you give him?
A: For me Carney is a no-brainer. I think this guy’s an exceptional footballer, he’s played over 40 times for his country, he’s been to a World Cup, scored six goals for his country.
Getting him at the Red Bulls is a really good pick-up because of his experience, he’s a player that is very comfortable on the ball and getting forward.
At the same time, this is a player that I want to be part of the World Cup set-up in Brazil, because the team’s only getting younger, you always need the experience and he’s definitely a different element that might be looked at by the boss.
I spoke to Carney a lot, and really I just want to see players play.
Any player that’s in amongst the squad that’s not playing and out for so long – for the national team, it’s not a good thing.
But when you see them back in teams, and playing, is a good thing and for Carney, he’s definitely looked fantastic.
He’s training two or three times with us, he played a reserve game the other day and they won and he played really well, and now he’s looking to start this weekend.
So he’s been here a week, and he’s already got his feet underneath the table. I’m really happy for him because he’s one of those players that is a great professional, and it’s good to have another Australian in New York.
Q: Finally, with Clint Dempsey coming back to the MLS at the age he did, there’s been a massive buzz around the league. The MLS is growing, and Commissioner Don Gerber has recently stated while announcing plans for four more expansion teams that the MLS can aim to be one of the world’s premier leagues by 2022. How would you describe the technical standard of the competition, and do you think that the MLS can become one of the world’s top league in a just under a decade’s time?
A: The key element here is that you’ve got two conferences, an Eastern and Western, and in each conference you’ve got 10 to 12 teams. Every team owns its own stadium and training ground, or shares.
There are no money problems and the Commissioner runs this ship unbelievably.
I’m lucky enough to have a great relationship with him where we talk about football, and life in the MLS, and New York Red Bulls and things like the development of grass roots in United States.
There’s four new teams coming into the league, another team just the other day came in with New York FC, for a licence that cost US$100 million.
This is serious business, this is Man City and the New York Yankees buying a club.
You have the Columbus team being sold for US$68 million. You’ve got Kansas City, that are doing amazing things with the set-up of what they’ve got there. When I was at the MLS All-Stars I was so proud of the club, even though it’s not mine.
Also you’ve got teams that are coming in an spending money, and the growth of players like Clint Dempsey. His deal is worth $35 million in total, you’ve got Landon Donovan who has just re-signed today, Robbie Keane re-signed, and Omar Gonzalez as well.
Clint Dempsey – who is the pin-up boy – sold a crowd out, I think it was the second-biggest crowd in the MLS ever, with 68,000 people.
This is the real deal, and I agree with the Commissioner in saying this could be up there pushing to be a big league because of the growth. It’s something where they do not spare a penny, it’s a show.
When you come and watch a New York Red Bulls game you’re going to see fireworks, you’re going to see fan interaction, you’re going to see people barbecuing before the game for three or four hours before. It’s the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen as an athlete.
And this why is Real Madrid, Barcelona, all the Premier League teams come to the United States, because it has the professional facilities, the money behind it and now, the technical level has really grown.
You don’t see teams coming to the MLS, Premier League teams and La Liga teams, coming and winning 6-0.
If anything, sometimes they come here and lose. We played Lyon at home, and we drew two-all. They had their full team out there and we played our first team in the first half and our second team in the second half and we got an unbelievable result against a top, top French team.
You have to look at levels of the infrastructure. It all starts with clubs owning their stadiums, putting the money that backs all the wages and making sure the players are being paid regularly and also the vision of what this league is doing is something I’ve never seen before.
That’s a big thing for me and as I said to the Commissioner, that’s what I want to be part of.