When Tim Cahill was just a young teenager, he was told he wasn’t good enough to take the step in professional football because he was weak and wasn’t tall enough.
Made of stern steel, that was never going to get in the way of his dreams, which marked the starting point of Timmy’s inspirational journey.
There have been many Australian athletes that deserve to be mentioned in this debate, with three in particular coming to mind in Margaret Court, Don Bradman and Dawn Fraser.
In that list include 24 grand slam titles (a record for both men and women’s singles), the best batting average (which is still a record today) and four gold medals at the Olympics (first woman to win gold at three consecutive Olympics). These are truly remarkable achievements, but for me they don’t come close to Cahill’s legacy on Australian football.
The career of Cahill was noticed when he made the switch to the English Premier League in 2004, playing for Everton. Argued by many as the toughest league in the world, he was at the top for eight years, scoring 56 goals in 226 appearances.
He then moved to the MLS signing for the New York Red Bulls which allowed him to play alongside legends such as Thierry Henry and Juninho. The A-League welcomed Cahill with open arms as he signed for Melbourne City after an unsuccessful spell in China, wanting to play in front of the Australian home crowd. That season involved a goal in the Melbourne derby that was voted goal of the season.
The World Cup is the greatest sporting event on the planet, and its how the Australian public will remember Cahill the most. In 2006, he scored the Socceroos’ first ever goal at a FIFA World Cup which inspired the Aussies to their first ever win in the tournament, scoring another goal in the same match.
Before that opening game against Japan, coach Guus Hiddink told him he was starting on the bench and had to wait for his opportunity. Some athletes would put their head down and not turn up with the right attitude in that situation, but Tim was always that guy who would do anything for his country, no matter the circumstances.
He scored one goal in the 2010 World Cup, adding a further two four years later in Brazil, scoring the greatest goal in Australian football history with a volley on his left foot against the Dutch which was named by many as the goal of the tournament. He has five World Cup goals in his career, the most by any Australian.
100 appearances and 48 goals later, the golden boy has played his part in putting football on the map in Australia.
Cahill’s aerial ability is one of the best in the world, scoring headers for fun for any team he has been involved with. Not bad for a bloke who was told he wasn’t good enough because he didn’t have the height.
The 2015 Asian Cup created yet another highlight for Cahill’s already decorated career, scoring three goals in the tournament to help the Socceroos win it’s first major piece of silverware. That bicycle kick goal against China in the quarter-finals only demonstrated that Cahill can produce brilliance out of nothing. Funnily enough, it was the goal of the tournament.
Wanting to do everything possible to help Australian football grow and teach future generations of his experiences is why he is a legend. He is the face of the Foxtel All Stars Program, a campaign involving over 1000 children (aged 6-11) which he contributes to a $20 million investment for the development of future football stars.
“I want to be in the minds of kids on and off the pitch. To add to the participation numbers, the grassroots, help with the fundamental skills and, importantly, help the kids to have fun and maybe help them achieve their dreams.” This is what Cahill is all about. It’s that extra drive and motivation off the pitch that helps him succeed on it.
“The first thing I thought about when I got that red card, was to take it on the chin and walk off and think about everyone in Australia watching instead of being a baby and reacting.”
This is Cahill referring to being wrongly sent off against Germany at the 2010 World Cup. It shows a professional athlete acknowledging a decision while being respectful and humble about it. This is an example of a true role model. A few qualities Kyrgios and Tomic should learn about if they are to one day be joined in this discussion.
At 37, he still has the legs for one more appearance at a World Cup next year in Russia. Who knows, maybe he can do the unthinkable and add to his five World Cup goals. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise, seeing as the man defies physics and defies logic.
A national icon. A legend of Australian sport. He has created memorable moments that have given so much joy to fans across the country. People who know nothing about football know who he is. Kids look up to him as a hero.
For me anyway, Tim Cahill is the greatest athlete Australia has ever produced.