x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Tiny Tim stands tall for Everton

Talk about destroying conventional wisdom. A guy who played for Millwall until the age of 24 who may well be the most feared attacking central midfielder in the Premier League not named Frank or Steve?

Tim Cahill is likely to revert to his more familiar midfield role against Chelsea today.
Tim Cahill is likely to revert to his more familiar midfield role against Chelsea today.

Talk about destroying conventional wisdom. A guy who played for Millwall until the age of 24 who may well be the most feared attacking central midfielder in the Premier League not named Frank or Steve? An Australian - with a Samoan mother no less - becoming the first man since the legendary Dixie Dean to score for Everton in three Anfield derbies?

A man generously listed at 5' 10" who routinely climbs into the heavens to beat 6' 4" centrehalves? Tim Cahill is a walking, talking cliche-buster, a guy who revels in the improbable and the unexpected, right down his moniker, "Tiny Tim". There's nothing "tiny" about the way he plays or the fact that today will be his second FA Cup final having helped Millwall - yes, Millwall - into the final in 2004, where the Lions lost 3-0 to Manchester United in a forgettable game.

Cahill roams the pitch with the kind of ferocity (credit those Samoan bloodlines) that managers love. "He channels his intensity in a positive way, he's vicious, but in a good sense, never dirty," says his manager, David Moyes. Twelve bookings in three years - a miniscule amount for a midfielder with his characteristics - are a testament to this. But there are two things which truly set him apart. And both are down to the same thing: timing.

He has scored 45 goals in the past five years, which, given that he has missed half a season on two occasions is a remarkable tally for a midfielder. He has that rarest of abilities, one of the few aspects of the game which is truly innate: he is eerily efficient at anticipating where the ball and his opponents will end up. It's football's equivalent of soothsaying and it allows him to time his runs into the box with precision, outfoxing quicker opponents and finding the glimmer of daylight he needs to shoot on goal. That kind of timing is not something you can teach.

The other terrifying weapon in his arsenal is also borne of timing. He wins headers with uncanny regularity, forming his squat body into a human springboard and then unleashing himself into the heavens at just the right moment. You can develop the attributes to jump high, both physical - strong legs, flexible torso - and mental - fearlessness, aggression - but timing is another matter. That's a gift from his maker.

Such is the faith in Cahill's aerial ability and attacking instincts that, when injuries depleted Everton's striking corps earlier this season, Moyes had little hesitation about turning him into a centreforward. And not a small, nippy striker either, but a genuine, back-to-goal target man. Why not? Leading the line is about winning headers, holding up the ball and finishing. Qualities which Cahill has in abundance.

Today he is likely to revert to his more familiar midfield role, doing battle against Chelsea's twin golems, Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack. Logic has him at a considerable disadvantage, but then orthodoxy has never defined him. From Balmain Police Boys Club in Sydney to Everton at Wembley Stadium: Cahill's journey has not been easy. Now that he's here however, one thing is certain: this is where he belongs.

@Email:gmarcotti@thenational.ae Chelsea v Everton, 6pm, Al-jazeera Sport +3