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There’s a trend in Australian football right now to want to be seen as a contrarian, so it’s no surprise that so many fans are bagging Tim Cahill.
Let no one suggest the former Millwall man can no longer create a headline.
There were howls of disbelief from certain sections of the Socceroos fan-base when Cahill was named in Australia’s provisional 26-man World Cup squad – supposedly at the expense of in-form Hibernian striker Jamie Maclaren.
And Football Federation Australia didn’t help things when, in typically ham-fisted fashion, they launched a promotional campaign with naming rights sponsor Caltex to rebrand five petrol stations as ‘CAHILLTEX’ on the same day.
It lead to suggestions that Cahill’s selection was nothing more than a commercial arrangement, with interim coach Bert van Marwijk said to have had his hand forced by a need to include arguably the Socceroos’ only genuine household name.
Couple that with the fact that Cahill played just 65 minutes in total for Millwall and there’s a basis for legitimate concern.
However, as is becoming the norm in debates around Australian football, many fans chose to focus on only one side of the story.
Want the simplest explanation of why van Marwijk will take Cahill to Russia? Because he thinks he can score goals.
There was plenty of sympathy for dropped defender Bailey Wright – who had an outstanding campaign as captain of Championship side Bristol City – but a more instructive comparison can be made with surprise selection Brad Jones.
Why did van Marwijk prefer Jones over incumbent second choice goalkeeper Mitch Langerak? Because he knows him.
Faced with having to choose between a goalkeeper who van Marwijk would have seen play for Feyenoord and one currently playing in Japan for Nagoya Grampus, the Dutchman picked the player he knows.
So why pick Cahill? Because he’s scored 50 times for Australia, including goals in each of the past three World Cups.
He scored the two goals that saw off Syria in the Asian playoff, and prior to that came off the bench to score the only goal in a vital 1-0 win over the United Arab Emirates as well.
In fact, Cahill scored an astonishing 11 goals on the road to Russia, making him the equal-third top goal scorer in Asian qualifying.
How many international goals did Jamie Maclaren score during that time?
The outcry over Maclaren’s omission is perhaps made more understandable by the fact the Socceroos don’t exactly possess a surplus of attacking talent.
Along with Tomi Juric – who struggled for form and fitness over the back end of the European club season – Cahill is the only attacking player who regularly finds the net.
And given that he’s unlikely to play a full 90 minutes in Russia, he looms large as Australia’s entirely predictable Plan B.
Meanwhile, van Marwijk will run his eye over the rest of the squad at a training camp in Turkey, and with three more players set to be cut, he’ll no doubt take a closer look at Nikita Rukavytsya.
The Maccabi Haifa flyer undoubtedly has pace, but plenty feel he was fortunate to be named in the provisional squad – particularly given Maclaren’s omission.
Yet as others have pointed out, Maclaren didn’t exactly take his chance in his five Socceroos outings to date.
More importantly, it’s questionable whether a pure goal poacher would fit into the type of system van Marwijk intends to play.
And those spitting venom across their keyboards about the choice to pick a player who has scored 50 goals for the national team over a player who has scored none, could do with a dose of perspective too.
It’s all well and good to plan for the future, but the World Cup is not a development league.
It’s the here and now. And right here and right now, the coach of Australia thinks selecting the nation’s record top goal scorer is a safe choice.
So do I.