Both of us, we discover, have three sons. Cahill’s are older and his middle boy, 17-year-old Shae, is on the books at Goodison Park. So, how do you keep them out of trouble?
‘Just put a football in the lounge and take away anything that is breakable,’ says the dad of four. ‘The missus always has a go at me. Or roll socks up, that’s easiest.’
Tim Cahill played eight seasons for Everton and became a club icon after signing for the Toffees from Millwall for £1.5million back in 2004
Cahill retired in 2019 but his trademark celebration, it is good to learn, did not. ‘I still punch the corner flag when I’m playing with the kids in the garden, or when I’m beating them on FIFA!’
The former Everton and Australia midfielder is talking to Sportsmail from Doha, where he is chief sports officer of the Aspire Academy. The boardroom is where he sees his future and he was consulted during Everton’s most recent search for a manager. Given Mark Noble was appointed as West Ham’s sporting director last month, could we see Cahill in a similar role at his old club?
‘Since retiring, I’ve really focused on my academics,’ says the man who has spent time at Harvard Business School and is also on the board of Belgian top-flight club K.A.S. Eupen.
‘Farhad Moshiri asked me to be part of the process in picking Frank and that [a role at Everton] is a work in progress. I’m a work in progress.
The midfielder scored five goals at three separate World Cup finals for Australia, the most of any Socceroos player in history
Since retiring Cahill has focused on academics, spending time at Harvard Business School and is now the chief sports officer of the Aspire Academy in Doha
‘My Everton connection will always be there. How that is going forward is down to the owners to talk about. For me, to be a strong leader, you have to evolve. If I want to go to Everton one day, I’m going to go with my eyes wide open. I’m only 42. When an opportunity comes, I need to be ready.’
Such diplomatic answers would serve him well among the suits of the Premier League. But we need to get Cahill off the fence. He is not going to bite on the calamity that has been Everton’s transfer strategy of recent years, but he does commit to this season being make-or-break for Lampard.
He likes what he has seen so far, especially in signings such as Conor Coady and James Tarkowski, the centre-backs currently part of one of the Premier League’s most stingy defences. It reminds Cahill of what David Moyes tried to achieve during their eight years together on Merseyside, which included a fourth-place finish in 2005.
‘This season is massive for Frank, it will be the telling of him. Kevin Thelwell [sporting director] also has a very big job. A club like Everton, it needs structuring and football people put in the right positions, from grassroots upwards. The manager is a reflection of trying to finish that on the pitch.
Cahill has been impressed with Conor Coady in his first season at Everton under Frank Lampard, with the former Wolves defender forming a solid partnership with James Tarkowski
‘Key football decisions need to have a vision and the club needs an identity. You build your team around that. These are the conversations I have – the signings represent the club, who represent the badge, who represent the future. The owner has really improved with his approach since I’ve been talking with him.
‘David Moyes signed players on a budget who fitted the club’s identity. They were players he trusted who were durable to last a season. They could handle the pressure of being at Everton. Look at how he did it, building from the back. I played in midfield with Lee Carsley and Thomas Gravesen. Tough characters, tough players. Only then did he sprinkle a bit of Mikel Arteta, Steven Pienaar, more luxury.
‘The difference now, for Frank, is that he has more money and he knows he has to produce. He is an academic himself. He is dedicated and passionate. When you look for characters, it’s not just tactical and technical attributes, but also their connection with the fans. Frank has that. I have a lot of time for him.’
Cahill is serious about his and Everton’s future but mention of a name from the past – Gravesen – takes our conversation in a lighter direction. The Dane was a one-off, evidenced by him retiring to Las Vegas to play poker.
Cahill credits former Everton midfielder Thomas Gravesen for having a big influence on his career and recalls the Dane always loved to challenge teammates in training
‘He was not your everyday footballer,’ says Cahill, who joined Everton from Millwall for £1.5million in 2004. ‘Tommy was the referee of everything. You’d play 5-a-side and he would stop the game and just sit on the ball. Players would look at him. Duncan Ferguson, Alan Stubbs, “Gaffer, what’s going on here?” The gaffer would just laugh.
‘He was a character, but a player every team needs. He’s also one of the most loving people I played with. He had a big influence on my career. He tried to nutmeg me on my first day. He was testing me, always poking the new players. But it was for a reason, you rose to that challenge. Listen, he left Everton for Real Madrid, which was incredible. He could play.’
While Gravesen took the likes of Cahill under his wing – or, more likely, into his headlock – Cahill was charged with taking care of Ross Barkley. In 2011, he said his teenage team-mate was the best young talent he had ever seen.
It saddens Cahill, then, to see Barkley, still just 28, having lost his way after five years at Chelsea, who paid up his contract this summer. He has since joined Nice but was given a rating of 3/10 by L’Equipe following his first start.
Cahill is the Socceroos’ all-time top scorer with 50 goals in 108 caps for Australia
The 42-year-old hasn’t retired his trademark celebration consisting of him punching a corner flag and still wheels it out when playing with his kids
‘Ability is one thing, but the lesson in that journey is also the people he has around him. I feel for Ross, in a way. He’s an incredible footballer. He just needs a manager to say, “Come here, let’s play some games and rebuild your career”.
‘I don’t always blame players on the pathways they take, because sometimes they are passengers. Ross is a unique character. I really hope he can impact his future.’
Barkley’s story should serve as a warning for Cahill’s own boy and other academy players. It brings us back to those close to aspiring footballers.
‘For me, it’s about guiding Shae, letting him be on his journey and not get too involved. I want to be there as a father, not coach.’
Cahill feels Ross Barkley needs a manager to help him maximise his ‘incredible’ talent
So, is there a likeness to dad? ‘Shae is a nice footballer, a good kid. He’s 6ft plus, a different build to me. He can pass and shoot better than I did as a midfielder. I had to play hundreds of games at Millwall before I was looked at by Premier League clubs. Because of that, my advice to him is to play games. It’s the only way to learn and mature.’
Cahill left Sydney for London at 16 after his parents arranged a £5,000 loan to fund his dream of becoming a footballer. He went on to play at four World Cups and, memorably during Brazil 2014, scored a stunning first-time volley with his left foot against Holland. His dad, who was born in Dagenham, had made Cahill and his two brothers remove their right boots when playing in the park as kids.
‘My dad would always say, “A great footballer has two good feet”. Everything goes back to my mum and dad, a Samoan and a London boy. I played with a carefree attitude because of them. So when it comes to shooting on goal in a World Cup with millions watching, I’m never going to second guess myself.
‘That was one of five goals I scored in World Cups, a boy who was told he was never going to make it. You can never have those moments taken away from you.’
Cahill celebrates scoring the opening goal in Australia’s 2-1 win over Serbia at the 2010 World Cup with Lucas Neill (right). It remains the Socceroos’ last World Cup victory to date
Cahill has lived in Qatar for three years and is an ambassador for next month’s World Cup. He answers questions on issues such as human rights and the country’s attitude towards homosexuality by stating his hope and belief that ‘football has the power to bring the world together’ and ‘bring about positive change’. He also sees himself as an ambassador for Asia, not just Qatar.
But his fancy for the tournament is the country he used to call home. ‘I just think England’s players coming here fresh gives them their best chance ever,’ he says. ‘Recent results are gone. Don’t forget the quality of players they have. They’re my pick to win it.’
We need to double check, though, having played at every World Cup since 2006, will Cahill be in the Socceroos squad this time around?
‘Sadly not, the boots are definitely up!’
Cahill is suited and booted these days. From penalty box to directors’ box, he might well be timing another run just right for Everton.