OPINION: Great opportunity for Tim Cahill, missed opportunity for the A-League.
Cahill might have been, perhaps should have been, the star recruit for Western Sydney Wanderers. Instead he'll be the point man for Thierry Henry at New York Red Bulls - another indicator that America's Major League Soccer is booming.
Wage negotiations and a medical permitting, Cahill should finalise his departure from Everton in the next few days. Thus a Toffee becomes a toffee apple. After eight years and almost 300 games in the English Premier League, Cahill is getting ready for a brave new world.
Not entirely new, to be fair. Cahill has always enjoyed holidaying in the United States. The difference is he'll now have to work there. And as David Beckham has discovered, the MLS is not as forgiving as it used to be.
There's now big pressure on big reputations, and Cahill will need to deliver for the under-performing Red Bulls, which has yet to win a major trophy. Six years after Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz paid $100 million to buy the club, and two years after he spent $200 million on a purpose-built stadium, that pressure is only building.
But back to the Wanderers. A man of the world he may have become, but Cahill remains staunchly proud of his western suburbs roots. For years, the family home at Hinchinbrook was a focal point for the neighbourhood. Joining the Wanderers would have been the perfect fit.
Last year, Harry Kewell burned through the newsprint when he signed for Melbourne Victory. If Cahill had joined Wanderers, he would have set the A-League on fire. Cahill not only matches Kewell's profile and aura but also has a much warmer history with the public, and media.
Cahill wearing the red and black hoops would have had season tickets at Parramatta Stadium running out the door. Instead, Cahill has chosen the US ahead of coming home.
Truth is, joining the Wanderers was never a serious option because Football Federation Australia - who will bankroll the club - never genuinely considered it an option. Whitlam Square has cooled on the merits of marquee players, and considering they're paying the bills it's no surprise the club has toed the line. The Wanderers have made it clear they will be a marquee-free zone.
For all that, having Cahill on the open market did present a unique opportunity. Despite recent injury woes, he proved in the World Cup qualifier against Japan he can still influence a game at the highest level. At 32, the investment would have been worth the risk. In a couple of years, when his MLS venture may wind down, that risk will be much greater.
The challenge for Cahill now is to maintain his EPL standards in the MLS. Not least because of the national team. Holger Osieck seems to need more and more convincing Cahill is still an integral member of his starting eleven. Truth is, he remains one of the few Socceroos who always looks likely to score. If he'd stayed at Goodison Park, Cahill was probably going to spend too much time on the bench. This way, he'll get enough football to stay sharp.
By going to New York, Cahill effectively becomes a pioneer. Danny Allsopp is the only other Australian to have played in America's top league, but he was in and out the door at Washington DC United in 2010 before anyone really noticed.
Cahill won't be able to sneak anywhere, he's about to become the flag-bearer for Australians in a competition which has the potential to become every bit as legitimate as the European leagues. In the process - and this is the sad part - it's now almost certain one of Australia's greatest players will never get to play in Australia's own league. What might have been?
- Sydney Morning Herald