With Tim Cahill turning his vision to the A-League and signing for Melbourne City, the benefits will be shared around the competition, but the move is not without risk.
For the FFA, securing the signature of Australia’s highest goalscorer marks an emergence from a tumultuous 12 months that included a feud with the players union, ownership drama in Brisbane and Newcastle and fan walkouts fuelled by ongoing media mistreatment.
For Melbourne City, the signing is a unique opportunity to advance the club’s fortunes off the field. While Aaron Mooy and Bruno Fornaroli have dazzled since moving from Western Sydney Wanderers and Danubio respectively, the club has not possessed a drawcard like Cahill since David Villa’s short-lived guest stint in late 2014.
Propelled by a scintillating brand of football, the brilliance of Fornaroli and the wizardry of Mooy, Melbourne’s younger club recorded an average attendance of 11,072 in 2015-16, a high watermark for an organisation that has historically been dwarfed by crosstown rivals Melbourne Victory.
While Cahill’s signing is not likely to boost City’s supporter base into contending with Victory, the presence of a big-name marquee has done wonders for A-League clubs in the past. After Juventus and Italy legend Alessandro Del Piero signed with Sydney FC in mid-2012, the club’s average attendance lifted from 11,861 to 18,637.
The danger for Melbourne City lies in failing to harness that momentum. While the Sky Blues achieved international relevance with the Del Piero signing, they had previously averaged crowds in excess of 18,000. The forthcoming surge in attendance will see City in uncharted waters, and the supporters that file through the turnstiles will need to be sold on life after Timmy.
For Cahill himself, much has been made of his earlier decision to extend his stay in China with Hangzhou Greentown, which tied into promotion of his clothing label and academies in a vast and largely untapped market.
While it seemed he did not believe in the A-League and the Australian market as a fit for Tim Cahill the footballer and Tim Cahill the brand, his change of heart will not hurt his back pocket.
The former Millwall and Everton midfielder is likely to collect a seven-figure sum as a guest player, in addition to a marquee bonus paid by the FFA. He is unlikely to procure the control over talent pathways that he desires, but will have ample opportunity to promote his Cahill+ apparel.
Further, his chances of reaching a fourth consecutive World Cup in 2018 could be strengthened by a less stressful schedule and fewer long flights to represent Australia.
The risk for Cahill lies in failing to deliver on the hype. Initially hesitant to return to the A-League, citing a lack of “vision,��? he drew the ire of many fans, who believed the delay was more financially motivated. At 36, he still trains at a high standard, but it’s impossible to predict whether he could withstand the rigours of a long summer campaign given his on-field work ethic.
When Harry Kewell signed with Melbourne Victory after 16 years overseas with Leeds, Liverpool and Galatasaray, a relatively impressive stint was met with some derision, despite his age and injury history. Many fans went in with impossibly high expectations, given the perceived standard of the A-League compared to the top European leagues.
Cahill has been embraced by the Australian public in a way that Kewell arguably never was, but he will be subject to greater scrutiny. If he can deliver on the promise of his reputation and price tag, it will only add to the legacy of one of the country’s most decorated athletes.