The increasing emergence of Everton's Tim Cahill
In the 2003-2004 season, Millwall caused a mini-sensation by becoming the first lower division club to reach the FA cup final since Sunderland in 1992. In their FA cup semi-final held at Old Trafford, the Lions took on another lower division club, ironically enough Sunderland, for the honour of reaching the final of England's showpiece occasion.
Watchers of lower division football talked of two players in particular to watch out for in the Millwall team. One was winger Paul Ifill- now a Sheff Utd squad player. The other was an attacking central midfielder player who I had not yet seen play but had increasingly been hearing was a player ready for the top level of football: Tim Cahill.
The semi-final was decided by one goal: Cahill calmly and confidently sidefooted home a loose ball from about 16 yards out after Paul Ifill's 26th-minute shot was parried. He went on to be earn the man of the match of the award for his all-round commitment in addition to his well- executed match-winning strike. I thought then that the lower-division pundits looked to be spot-on with their judgment of Cahill's full potential.
A few months later, the shrewd Everton manager David Moyes paid £1.5 million to acquire the services of Cahill. And the Australian's impact was fantastic: scoring 11 Premiership goals in his first season at the highest level from an attacking midfield position that helped drive Everton to an unexpected final position of fourth place and passport into the Champs League qualification stage.
For the first half of last season, Tim Cahill struggled to maintain that high-level impact. After Christmas, however, he caught fire again and ended the season with another respectable tally for a midfielder of six Premiership goals.
Cahill then went to the World Cup and after starting on the bench due to lack of full fitness he made one of the best ever substitute appearances at a major tournament: scoring a poachers goals from close range in the 84th minute to level the game with Japan, followed by thumping in an eighteen yard drive in the 89th minute to put Australia on their way to a famous win in their first match of the tournament.
The 26 year old has started what is his third season for Everton in more excellent form: scoring four goals in their first eight league games and linking up very well with the EFT player of the month for September, Andrew Johnson. It is not only is his excellent goals ratio for a midfielder which is impressive, but the automatic complete commitment that he brings to every game. He is a player that you know will not give less than 100 per cent while he is on the field - and for me he has now emerged as Everton's most important player.
Earlier this week, Tim Cahill gained international recognition for his play by being named as one of 50 nominees for the Ballon D'Or European Footballer of the Year award. I reckon this is well deserved, and credit should also go to Moyes for three years ago taking the sort of well-calculated risk that not many Premiership managers are prepared to do: recruit a talented and high-potential player from the lower division.
Everton are at home to Sheff Utd and will be looking to immediately put behind them their first league defeat of the season suffered last week at Middlesbrough. You can be sure that Tim Cahill will lead the Toffeemen charge.