‘I had to train always at an eight or nine out of ten’: Tim Cahill opens up on playing at Everton with David Weir and Duncan Ferguson, his Samoan roots and making kids’ dreams come true as an author
- Tim Cahill had a successful career, appearing at four World Cups for Australia
- The 40-year-old played for Millwall, and Everton in the Premier League
- He is now an author with his Tiny Timmy books selling more than 250,000 copies
- The Aussie legend opens up to Sportsmail about his upbringing and career
There is a symmetry to Tim Cahill’s life that befits a character who has made his fame and fortune by circumnavigating the globe.
It is a factor that can crudely be multiplied to the power of four. He is 40, played at four World Cups, for clubs on four continents, and has four children.
The key to the Australian midfielder, however, lies in a single unbreakable thread that stretches back more than three decades to Samoa and has never been frayed by distance, disaffection or occasional defeat. This debt to the past is inked, too, on his body.
Tim Cahill has played at four World Cups for Australia and in four different continents
‘I never lost sight of who I was. Football never really owned me,’ says Cahill. This shows no disrespect to the sport that paid him but rather emphasises the principles that made him.
Cahill famously played for Everton and Millwall but he also went on to star for Red Bulls in New York, Shanghai Shenhua and Hangzhou Greentown in China, Melbourne City in Australia and Jamshedpur in India.
But the journey begins in a Samoan village that gave him his mother and so much else in life.
‘We visited Samoa a lot and stayed there for long periods,’ says Cahill, whose father was of English-Irish descent.
‘My grandfather was the chief of the village and my grandmother lived there her whole life. She was one of the most influential people of my life and why I ended up getting the tattoo once she had died.’
This inking depicts both the love for a grandmother and the significance of his Samoan heritage.
‘It is a big part of my culture, a big part of my beliefs: to take care of my family, to go that extra mile to understand hardships.’
The 40-year-old emphasised the significance of his Samoan heritage within his family
Grandmother Alofa was ‘the backbone of the family’. He adds: ‘She instilled discipline and family first.’
Cahill, a writer of best-selling children’s books and a successful businessman, is now an official ambassador for the World Cup in Qatar and an advocate for Generation Amazing, an initiative that offers opportunities to disadvantaged children all over the world.
He stands alongside such as luminaries as Cafu, Xavi and Samuel Eto’o in that role, but once it was a different ball game.
‘We used to play with a rugby ball,’ he says of childhood holidays in Samoa. ‘That’s the national sport. Basically, if you give me a rugby ball I can juggle it.’
Cahill, who appeared at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, is an ambassador for the 2022 event
Life was basic but happy. He adds: ‘We would wake up at five in the morning and go to get the hot bread and then go back home to eat it with butter, maybe with eggs if they were available. Then we went to the shower, which was the watering hole across the road. Life was very simple.’
‘The village is very cultural. Religion is everything. On Sundays nobody does anything. It is about religion and respecting your elders.’
These beliefs remain with Cahill. ‘Even to this day, I make sure all the kids are involved in chores, washing up, helping to cook, whatever it is,’ he says of family life.
They were carried into his professional career, too. He was signed by Millwall in 1998 on an international contract that meant he did not have to do the same menial work as YTS trainees, but Cahill joined in anyway, cleaning the toilets, sweeping the terraces and cleaning the boots.
‘I just mucked in and I loved it. I loved having a competition to see if we cleaned the showers or changing rooms better than the other lot. We used it as a bonding,’ he says.
The Australian was signed by London side Millwall in 1998 on an international contract
He was driven, too, by the bruises of rejection that had accumulated during his playing career as a kid in Sydney.
‘I was told I was too small. I was told I wasn’t fast enough. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, being told I would never be a professional football player,’ he says.
This experience is related in the series of Tiny Timmy books that have sold more than 250,000 copies worldwide and it is also the foundation of his grassroots programmes in Australia and his role at Generation Amazing where he seeks to ensure a legacy beyond 2022.
He wants children to look at him and believe they can fulfil their dreams, too. ‘That’s the angle I want to come from,’ says Cahill.
‘I want it to be more accessible to allow kids to become more confident to try. Not everyone is going to make it but the moral of the story is to give them something.’
This ‘something’ is opportunity and Cahill has seized his. He does not avoid the workers’ rights and other controversies that have accompanied the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar.
Cahill did not shirk issues regarding the awarding of the FIFA World Cup to Qatar
‘We are trying as hard as we can,’ he says of changing both the culture and the image. ‘It is about education. Before every World Cup there is always something that people are concerned about.
‘But I want to bring a lot more to the table than simply being the face of something. We really get to implement our feelings of how we want to do it.’
This sense of belonging is what permeated dressing rooms from Goodison Park to Hangzhou and Cahill has been accompanied by a faithful, constant feeling on his travels.
‘The way that I see it is that I have always had an open approach to embracing everything, to challenging myself, to being uncomfortable,’ he adds. ‘I love the environment when I am up against it. I thrive.’
Millwall was his foundation but he built a substantial career on its lessons. ‘Every changing room that I was in, I liked to put myself in the centre of it,’ he says. ‘I would not do it from the start with my voice, I would have to do it with action. I was very lucky at Millwall to be around a lot of leaders. I had to learn quickly.
‘When I went to Everton… imagine going into a dressing room with Duncan Ferguson, Lee Carsley, Kevin Campbell, Alan Stubbs, Davie Weir… all those big names and they are older with families. I was like: “Wow. I have to mature quickly, I have to get up to grade”.
‘I had to train always at an eight or nine out of ten. Tommy Gravesen could train at a six or five. I really imprinted my existence in that changing room very early, within my first season. When I knew I could handle that changing room…’
Cahill made his name at Everton, with his trademark punching celebration a regular sight
The feeling is of a young man already strengthened by experience. The education continued.
‘The biggest thing I learned when I left Everton was that it wasn’t all about me,’ he adds. ‘At Everton, you were always looked at as the main focus. You’ve got to score, you’ve got to lead. When things are good you get a limelight you don’t really need. But when things are bad… then it’s your name that’s on that team.’
Travel, though, took the focus in other directions. It was in New York that he decided to write the children’s books.
‘I wanted to create a character who would relive my whole path. I wanted instances and references to what happened throughout my career and I wanted each book to have the representation of a subject,’ he says.
‘They (New York Red Bulls) wanted to win a cup quickly. We had Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, Juninho… these types of players. I learned very quickly that if I didn’t score it would be: “He’s on this kind of contract, that kind of money… why are they not winning?” We won a trophy, though.’
He learned, too, about the commercial world of football. There were regular questions about how many jerseys with his name on it were selling. There was media in the dressing room. There was hype and hoopla. ‘I embraced it,’ he says.
China was another lesson. ‘Shanghai, 30 million people. Wow,’ he says. ‘No one speaks English. The manager could not speak English, there were translators everywhere.
The Aussie then moved to New York Red Bulls in the MLS and also playing in Shanghai
‘I thought I could help the game and the club. It was the most challenging and the most exciting time. I started to become a coach over there.’
He then went on to Melbourne City before joining Jamshedpur in the Indian Super League.
‘Going back to Australia was hard. You are in the spotlight but we won the club’s first ever trophy,’ he says. ‘India was the last tick.’
The education was global but is not yet complete. He has ambitions both in football and outside it.
‘If I don’t succeed in football, then I could do something in business,’ he says.
He retains, of course, a keen interest in English football and is excited about its return. ‘It’s part of the DNA of England,’ he says.
He praises the ‘aura’ of Carlo Ancelotti at his former club and is expectant about what the Italian manager can bring to Everton.
‘When I was last at Everton, just before the pandemic, he drove past me and then he stopped, reversed, got out the car and gave me a hug. That is part of what Everton means. He knows that by the way he talks about the club. You can hear it in his voice.’
Cahill says he always knew former Everton team-mate Mikel Arteta would be a manager
Cahill, who is completing his UEFA pro licence, played alongside Mikel Arteta, who is now managing Arsenal. ‘I always knew that Mikel would be successful as a manager. He is very prepared.’
He has another interest, too. His 16-year-old son, Shae, is at Everton. ‘It’s just amazing he can learn in that environment, understand the club, the badge,’ he says.
The son of a globetrotter is thus a link in the chain that binds another generation to Granny Alofa and the way of the Samoan.
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