By Richard Cawley
When it comes to assessing Tim Cahill as a footballer, there are not many better placed than his Millwall midfield partner David Livermore.
While Cahill is still going strong at the age of 38 – and hoping that his return to the Lions this week will strengthen his hopes of a fourth World Cup finals with Australia – Livermore, seven months his junior, ended his playing days at Histon in 2012.
The pair have been re-united after Cahill decided to head back to The Den, where his career in the game lifted off.
Livermore, assistant manager to Neil Harris at the South London club, said: “To be playing at 38 shows Timmy has looked after himself really, really well. I’d say he has been fortunate with injuries but he has had them – I remember in his time here he did his cruciate.
“Him going to Everton and playing with Mikel Arteta and Phil Neville, fantastic pros, and later on moving to New York Red Bulls and playing alongside Thierry Henry has helped him learn a lot.
“He has learned all about nutrition, rest and recovery. I’d also say it comes down to genetics. You do get players who play for a long time. Timmy’s certainly one of them.
“When I saw him on Sunday, which is the first time for a long while, I thought he looked fit – if not fitter – than he did when he left us in 2004. It just shows the drive and determination he has to be at the top and the opportunity of going to a fourth World Cup, that would be an unbelievable achievement.
“There will be a lot of things he does here that go unseen, like around the training ground. We did a little session with a small group on Tuesday and his enthusiasm was infectious. He was the oldest player out there but the most enthusiastic. Straight after that he was in the gym on a spinner recovering.
“For our young pros to see how a top, top professional lives will be invaluable.
“In terms of what he can add on the pitch, the honest answer is no-one knows. But again I come back to his desire to do well and excitement of being back at the football club.
“I can see the hunger in him, even at 38. He wants to get back out on the pitch, he wants to score at the Den again and in front of our fans. Knowing Timmy and what he has done in his career, he will make an impact at some point.
“For the first couple of weeks we’ll have to take it easy with him a little bit because it has been six to eight weeks without a game. It would be wrong for us to push him too hard too soon and break him.
“We have to be cautious but he was very bright and sharp. I’m sure he’ll have an effect on the group and the club between now and the end of the season.”
Livermore and Cahill were an effective double act in the Millwall midfield – part of the side which won the old Division Two title in 2001 – before the latter joined Everton in 2004.
Livermore, a centre-back when part of the youth ranks at Arsenal, was the defensive screen while his Sydney-born team-mate bagged 58 goals in 241 matches.
“To say that Timmy was just a goal-scoring midfielder is wrong – it would be a disservice,” he said. “Timmy worked extremely hard box to box. He can tackle, look after the ball well and score goals. He was just a better all-round player than I was.
“My upbringing as a defender made me more of a destroyer, someone who intercepted and regained the ball – kept it simple. Timmy could do that but also drive forward, take people on. He was comfortable in all those roles.
“It took me a while to get into the team when I joined in 1999 but after that we must have played 200-odd games together. It took a little while for youth to get into the team but when it did, it stayed there.
“When Ray Harford came into coach, first with Keith Stevens and Alan McLeary and then Mark McGhee, played a big part. He was a fantastic coach and showed a lot of belief in a young midfield. We had Steven Reid on the left, he was 19. Timmy and Paul Ifill were 20. It was the youngest midfield in the country at the time. All our individual qualities really complemented each other.
“Timmy’s main strength was his late run into the box to score goals. He was a bit like Frank Lampard and what he would do at Chelsea. Timmy, with his head, was probably the best finisher.
“It was something he focused on daily, along with Neil [Harris]. He had a great leap but he also had an understanding of the game, intelligence and was always on the move when other people were stock still.”
Cahill made the divisional PFA Team of the Year in the season when he left.
Everton paid out £1.5million – peanuts in the current transfer market – to take him to Goodison Park.
Fifty-five per cent of his 56 goals for Everton – 31 – came from headers. That is the highest proportion in the Premier League out of 97 players who have scored at least 50 goals in the English top-flight.
Cahill’s last competitive game in a Lions shirt came on May 22 as they lost 3-0 to Manchester United at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
“Everyone was pleased for Timmy to get that move – he deserved it for what he had done in the past five or six seasons,” said Livermore. ‘No-one could begrudge him that.
“Like any club you move on. We were in the Europa League. Jody Morris came to the football club and Dennis Wise was there then too. We just evolved. I don’t think we ever replaced his goalscoring ability from midfield.
“We probably had one of the strongest squads the season after the final that I can remember but unfortunately we didn’t really fulfill the goal the squad had. After that was when a lot of players moved on to new things and we ended up getting relegated.
“Timmy was definitely a difficult player to replace, that’s for sure.”