The Socceroos’ Asian Cup hopes have been dealt a huge blow after it was confirmed star midfielder Aaron Mooy will be out for three months with a knee injury.
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His move from Everton to New York Red Bulls came as a shock to many but as Tim Cahill explained, his determination to succeed for both club and country hasn’t waned in the slightest.
Cahill spoke with The Roar ahead of the premiere of FOCUS, a six-part series delving into what drives 12 Red Bull athletes across a wide sporting spectrum. Cahill features heavily in Wednesday’s night programme, airing on Fox Sports.
Just over 12 months ago Cahill was gearing up for his ninth English Premier League campaign at Everton, where the talismanic attacking midfielder had netted 56 times in 226 appearances to become one of the club’s most prized assets.
So when he announced his departure from Goodison Park to head to MLS superclub New York Red Bulls, more than a few eyebrows were raised.
After all, this was a player who’d made 35 appearances in the 2012/13 EPL season and at 32 years of age was still a vital cog in David Moyes’ unit.
But for Cahill the lure of a third consecutive World Cup appearance, plus the challenge of moving to the rapidly developing MLS, made the decision an easy one.
“The thing is you have to take into consideration your body, your age, what you want to do as a footballer,” he said.
“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.”
The move couldn’t have gone better, with Cahill has featuring in 22 of the Red Bulls’ 27 regular-season matches this campaign.
The midfielder’s 39th-minute header gave the Red Bulls a 2-1 win over DC United yesterday, his eighth goal of the season, with the three points moving the New York club equal on points with Montreal Impact at the top of the MLS Eastern Conference.
Understandably, Cahill didn’t hesitate when asked whether he’d made the right decision.
“It’s been 12 months since and so far, the plan is going fantastic,” he said.
“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.”
The FOCUS series will provide Australian fans with a unique insight into how, after over 15 years as a professional footballer, Cahill continues to relish the demanding challenges that the world’s top athletes face.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
For those that question whether the MLS is up to the standard Cahill requires to push himself toward Brazil, the 33-year-old’s message is simple.
“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,” he said.
What Australian fans don’t see is the level of investment being poured into all facets of the MLS – from playing rosters, to stadiums, training facilities and other infrastructure – but as Cahill explained, the league is rapidly bridging the gap between itself and its European counterparts.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Cahill recently welcomed Socceroo teammate David Carney to the Red Bulls, and he was unequivocal in his praise for the former Sydney FC star.
Carney made his first-team debut in the win over DC United yesterday, and Cahill underlined the importance of having a player capped 46 times for his country playing regular football.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Cahill also revealed his pleasure in working with World Cup-winning striker Thierry Henry and the recently departed Juninho Pernambucano.
“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.”
After a 15-year professional career for both club and country, Cahill outlined what continued to drive him.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Long should it continue. A fit and in-form Tim Cahill is needed to lead the Socceroos in nine months’ time.