“I’m ambitious. I’m not scared of failing – it’s reality. I started with nothing. That mentality has got me all the way.”
It seemed a standout quote from Tim Cahill as Millwall’s most high-profile capture of the January transfer window spoke to the media at The Den today. Such is the Australian legend’s aura – and standing in the game – that the press conference was split up in chunks for TV, written press and radio.
Cahill coming back to the South London club where it all began is big. Big for the fans, who have a player back that they saw grow and becoming an outstanding goalscoring midfielder. Big for Cahill, who hopes that his second spell with the Lions can earn him a spot in Australia’s World Cup squad in Russia, a fourth finals for the 38-year-old.
There were so many good soundbites from the Sydney man, it’s hard to know where to start.
He talked about have 30 games left in his legs, but then was asked about whether his time in South London could extend into next season.
“You can always change that number from a three to an eight. My project now is Millwall. How can I give something back to the club that made me? There was no negotiation with Neil [Harris]. It’s why it comes down to me – how fit can you be? I’m 38 but I want people to focus on my energy and fitness levels. I’ve got to come up to scratch with the way they play.
“I’m in the players’ group chat. At Millwall, no-one is different. You have to stay on a level par with the lads. There is no putting myself in a different pedigree. At Everton it was the same thing. I don’t want to talk about the World Cup. There are some top players [from Australia] playing in big teams who have missed two World Cups in a row. No-one is guaranteed anything in football.
“It’s very surreal where I’m sitting now.”
Cahill’s family will base themselves in New Jersey – a six-hour plane flight to get to the capital.
“I’m lucky they allowed me to have these five months. They know soon dad’s not going to be that robot no more. I had 18 months in Australia, one game a week, it was chilled out. No pressure. Now I say ‘let’s kick it on a bit’. Even training in this environment is a different level. I can see it and feel it.”
Cahill was a team-mate of Millwall boss Harris when he was last in a Millwall shirt. Now the young boss is fashioning a reputation as an astute tactician who has won a promotion from League One and looks set to consolidate the club at a higher level where they have a distinct financial disadvantage to the opposition.
“The good thing about me and Neil is there is a line. He’s the manager and I’m still a player. I’ve chosen not to be on that side. When I want to go that side, take your boots off. I’m not ready for that.
“I’ll never leave the game. There are always options to play. People are building teams and leagues in different countries. Every single player who is now a manager says don’t retire if you can still run – don’t do it. Some packed up a bit earlier and they miss it. You’ve got to be realistic as your body ages.”
Keith Stevens, another Millwall favourite who now resides in Australia, played his own role in Cahill’s career going full circle.
“He is still one of my best mates – he taught me what Millwall was all about. He was the manager and kept playing me even when I played badly. He gave me my first decent contract which helped me put a deposit on a house in Australia. He is someone I trust.
“I was sitting with Rhino in Queensland about whether it was the right decision – should I go to another club? He said if I have to put you on the airplane myself I’ll walk you in.”
Is it going to be a fairytale for Cahill in SE16?
“It’s always going to be a happy ending – because I came home. I’m not coming back and demanding anything from the club. That shows in how quickly everything was done. I didn’t need to read the contract. I had to get over a lot of hurdles to get to where I am – back free. This is an amazing achievement, just to be sat here now.”
Don’t bet against Cahill adding to his exploits for Millwall. He certainly wants it badly enough.