Tim Cahill may have gone from Melbourne City, but his shadow will linger, at least for a little while.
That he has quit the club comes as no surprise.
His declaration after the Socceroos win over Honduras (a victory that booked their place at the World Cup ) that he needed more game time to ensure he was ready to do himself and the country justice in Russia next year was always likely to put him on a collision course with City’s management.
Players can and do hold their clubs to ransom with demands over how and where they play, when and how often.
But they tend to be superstars at the height of their power, men in their mid 20s who have the leverage and the bargaining power.
Cahill, who turned 38 on Wednesday – the day he chose to announce that he was leaving City – is neither at the peak of his powers nor in possession of such bargaining chips.
Thus it was never likely that he was going to win any showdown with coach Warren Joyce once City’s administration had made it clear that they would make no exceptions for him and would back their new manager’s judgment.
Cahill was under contract for the rest of this season and had a third year on his deal which would have led to a transition to coaching, so this can’t have been an easy decision for him as he contemplates a future in which he is no longer a player.
It would have been the easiest thing to do to sit tight, accept a diminished role playing off the bench and only starting occasional games and then stick with the powerful City group to ensure he had a career path laid out for him in the future.
And had Ange Postecoglou not sensationally stepped down as Socceroos coach, that is how things might have played out.
Given Cahill’s talismanic role within the national team squad and his ability to still do a job in the green and gold – it is, don’t forget, less than two months since his bravura performance against Syria, when he scored the two goals that brought Australia victory – would surely have guaranteed him a spot in Postecoglou’s 23 for Russia were he still in charge.
But with Postecoglou’s departure it’s understandable that Cahill, despite his experience and legendary status, might have had doubts as to whether a new coach would want to take someone of his age and physical capacity to such a demanding tournament, even if his scoring exploits spoke for themselves.
Trouble is, Cahill rarely looked as though he fitted into Joyce’s immediate plans, never mind City’s medium- to long-term future.
When he arrived last season and announced himself with that debut wonder goal against Melbourne Victory it looked as though he might be an inspired signing.
But in retrospect that night and one a few weeks later when he scored the only goal of the game in the FFA Cup final to give City its first men’s silverware were the high water marks of his time in sky blue.
No one expected him to dominate games at his age, but more problematic was that City seemed to struggle to fit him and Bruno Fornaroli into the same starting line-up and the tactical tweaks required to play them both certainly impacted on Fornaroli’s effectiveness.
Joyce was brought in this season to freshen things up, change the way City played, make them tougher and more defensively accountable and also inculcate a new harder-edged culture.
That should have played to Cahill’s strengths; after all, he has not become Australia’s greatest Socceroo and had such a storied career in the national team and at the highest levels of the game without being mentally tough, determined and capable of getting the utmost out of his body even as he aged well past normal veteran stage.
But a combination of circumstances meant that he was never able to work himself into Joyce’s plans long term.
The coach brought in Ross McCormack on loan from Aston Villa, and immediately preferred the younger, more mobile Scotsman to the now more one-dimensional Cahill, who was relegated to a bench-warming role.
His involvement with the national team also didn’t help. Joyce knew Cahill would be missing for much of the first two months of the campaign and bit the bullet, deciding to set the team up around McCormack and others knowing that they would at least get the time to play together and cement on-field relationships that Cahill, because of his absences, wouldn’t.
The former Premier League forward was also brought in to help grow City’s crowds, lift its profile and boost its visibility in a marketplace in which the older established and much more successful Victory held sway.
He didn’t really have the desired effect, at least not consistently or in the long term.
City’s gates have not grown dramatically through any Cahill effect, despite the fact that he is still revered whenever he dons the national team shirt.
The club already had its big sponsor Etihad (tied to its owners, the City Football Group) on board.
While there was interest around the league at his first appearance at other grounds he did not lift attendances markedly: certainly not in the way that Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero did in his first season for Sydney.
Cahill’s experience, knowledge and know-how would, presumably, have helped out in the dressing room, and youth team players would have certainly looked up to a legend of the game sharing the same training pitch as them.
Joyce has tried to avoid questions about whether there was a breakdown in relations between the pair. Not surprisingly, he wants to focus on looking ahead to the future.
“We spoke to the players and now we just build for the weekend,” he said at a press conference on Friday dominated by questions about Cahill and his departure.
“I think everything’s already been said, all the statements have been made by myself and the football club and Tim during this week.
“I would like to go on record and wish him all the best because the World Cup is coming up and to get that, play in four World Cups and maybe score and go in with the likes of Pele (to score in four World Cups) would be a fantastic achievement.
“So you hope to see him do that – as long as the goal is not against England because we’re being beaten enough at the moment (in the Ashes).”