World Cup 2018: 'Tim Cahill wants to be up there with Pele'

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France v Australia (11:00 BST on Saturday 16 June)

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I remember having a conversation with Tim Cahill last year, where he kept on saying he was going to come to Russia and score at his fourth consecutive World Cup.

So it does not surprise me at all that he is here with Australia at the age of 38.

Tim is one of my closest friends in football and I know that, when he sets his mind on something, he is totally driven in terms of achieving it.

That determination is probably his defining characteristic as a player and a person, and it was the thing that drew me to him from the first day I met him.

When I joined Everton in 2005, he was the first person I really bonded with. He was a great ally for me inside the dressing room, and a great guy to be around outside of it – we still speak regularly now.

Is it time for another ‘Tim Cahill moment’?

If he plays for Australia in Russia, Cahill will have featured in four World Cups – every tournament since 2006, when he scored the first World Cup goal in their history. With five World Cup goals, he has scored 45% of his country’s total

Scoring at four different World Cups is something only a handful of great players have done – Miroslav Klose, Uwe Seeler and, of course, Pele. Tim wants his name to be up there with them.

Can he do it? Well, with Tim, every time you think that he is done, he comes up with something special – like he did when he proved people wrong by scoring the goals in the play-off against Syria that got Australia to Russia.

I call it the ‘Tim Cahill moment’ because right through his career he has always produced something where you think ‘wow!’, like his stunning volley against the Netherlands at Brazil 2014, for example.

This World Cup is probably his last big tournament to produce something like that again as a player and I just hope he gets an opportunity.

Giggs, Beckham, Ronaldo, Cantona… and Cahill?

World Cup 2014: Tim Cahill nets stunning volley for Australia

What makes Tim so special? Well, forget tricks and flicks and all that kind of business; it is his attitude that is absolutely world-class.

It is as good as the very best players I have been team-mates with. People might say you can’t compare Cahill to the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo or Eric Cantona – to name but four – but they have one thing in common, which was a burning desire to succeed.

It was the first thing that struck me when I went to Everton. There were plenty of players there with more skill, but nobody else had the same heart as this Aussie kid.

Tim wanted to be as good as he could be, and he has gone on to have an unbelievable career that has taken him all over the world.

He is a great example to young players out there that nothing is impossible if you really set your mind to it.

I love the typical Australian approach to sport anyway, because they always seem ready to take on the world. Tim has got that in abundance.

If you follow him on social media you will see that he uses the hashtag ‘#fearless’ a lot, and that probably sums him up.

We are both positive people and not one ounce of negativity came out of him in all the years I played with him, from 2005 to 2012.

I can imagine he will be exactly the same now in the Australia camp – he is an inspiration, which is part of the reason he has been picked.

Big games bring out the best in Tim – he sucked people along with him

Tim Cahill is Australia’s record goalscorer, with 50 goals in 106 games

Australia are in a difficult group with some big players in some strong teams so they are going to find it difficult, but Tim will not be worried about that – quite the opposite, actually.

Some players lead with their voice and what they say. With others it is with what they do.

Tim’s influence was always by his actions and the bigger the game – like Everton’s derbies against Liverpool, or when we played Manchester United – the more it got his juices flowing.

Occasions like that are when he really came into his own and he sucked people along with him to bring out the best in them too, which is the sign of a really good player.

When I saw that they were playing France in their first game I thought to myself that would be tough, but I know Tim’s attitude to it will be ‘this is my moment’.

He will be relishing the chance to play against the likes of Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann because he loves to pit himself against the very best, and he will put in a performance too – I have no doubts about that.

Talisman, hero… and future manager?

Tim Cahill played 159 minutes of club football last season in 16 appearances for Melbourne City and Millwall, starting only one game, but he scored 11 goals in Australia’s 22 qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup

For many years Tim was the talisman of the Australia team on the pitch but now he is not guaranteed to start and his role is probably as much about what he brings to the camp with his leadership qualities.

For the younger players in their squad he is their hero, a pioneer they can look up to and learn from.

He is passing on his experience and it would not surprise me if he ended up being Australia’s manager in a few years’ time, because he has that much of an effect on their football community.

But right now he is still a player and I know what he will be thinking – yes, I can inspire this team off the field but, when I get my chance on it, I am going to score that goal that puts me up there with probably the greatest player of all time, Pele.

At his age, you have to use all of your qualities plus your intelligence and your experience to get an opportunity in front of goal, and then take it.

If it happens, Tim will be ready. I can’t wait to see him play at this tournament, and I just have a feeling he will go out on a high.

Phil Neville was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan in Moscow.



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