In what is the biggest signing in A-league history at an estimated $3.5 million per season (partly funded by FFA) so far it has been a mediocre start for the soon to be 37-year-old, Tim Cahill. Despite crushing their city rivals, results and performances haven’t been going according to the script for Melbourne City and it may soon become apparent that Cahill’s presence represents more of a problem than an asset.
A Socceroos legend – that much is undeniable, even for those fans that dislike him on a personal level. Evidence of his quality is present in his first touch and composure on the ball, not to mention his Goal of the Season against Victory – Yes; we are calling it that early. Despite his relatively small stature, his natural fitness made him an absolute weapon in air and helped his career span far longer than his Socceroo colleagues. Though even still, City’s management must accept that they cannot demand too much of him in a physical sense.
In his prime, Tim Cahill would play in the centre of the park and as the ball would get played wide he’d surge forward with late runs into the box almost impossible for defenders to cover him as he’d unleash a free header on goal. As time goes on all players must adapt their game so that their bodies suit modern football. History is filled with examples: Paolo Maldini shifted from fullback to the centre, Brazilian Ronaldo became less of a complete forward to a poacher after rupturing his ACL, and Tim Cahill moved further up the field. This allowed him to cover less ground and still make use of his most valuable attribute. At the 2014 World Cup, he played as a lone striker scoring what should have been goal of the tournament (had Lionel Messi score that exact same goal, the world would still be talking about it).
There in lies the problem. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, near every A-league side almost exclusively employees a variation of 4-3-3 – as if that is the be all and end all of football (Perth Glory being the only exception with a dull 4-4-2). Since the 2006 World Cup, Australia started a love affair with Dutch football, and if you were to enroll yourself in a National Coaching Licence course today, you’ll find that 4-3-3 is all they ever talk about.
Knowing that Tim Cahill is now in reality a centre forward, did they even stop to consider how he would fit in along side Fornaroli? But to be honest these directors most likely do not know a single thing about the sport and were probably replaying highlights of his time at Everton in their minds, believing Tim Cahill is still a centre midfielder as he was putting pen to paper on a deal that cost more than Sydney to sign Del Piero. It sounds absolutely ridiculous when you read it out loud, but still probably the most fitting scenario as he was signed as Aaron Mooy’s direct replacement.
With all that said and done – City’s bed is now made and they have to lie in it. There are three outcomes as we see it: Do you bench the A-league’s record holding goalscorer? Do you essentially waste $7 million over two seasons with Cahill playing off the bench? Or do you change the system to accommodate them both, thus making the signings of wingers Nicolas Colazo (another marquee signing from Boca Juniors) and the electric Bruce Kamau a complete waste, stifling the development of the 21-year-old Socceroo hopeful?
Each option sounds as unappealing as the last. In my eyes, there is the potential option of an Antonio Conte-esque 3-5-2. How Kamau and Colazo would take to playing as wingbacks or how John van’t Schip would go about coaching a very un-Dutch formation are separate questions altogether.