Tim Cahill meant no malice with sponsored World Cup goal celebration
Tim Cahill never fails to deliver for his country. The evergreen forward is Australia's all-time greatest goal scorer and once again saved the day in the Socceroos' 2-1 World Cup qualification triumph against Syria in Sydney on Oct. 10. This time, though, his heroics left the opinion of the nation divided.
As Cahill powerfully nodded home the winner from a precise Robbie Kruse cross in the second half of added time last week, countless fans across the globe expected to see the 37-year-old wheel away and attack yet another innocent corner flag.
Instead of his trademark boxing routine, however, Cahill delivered a blow as he marked his 50th international goal, which still has football puritans reeling.
The flying plane and 'T' sign he made to symbolise his latest sponsor TripADeal was seen as inappropriate by some, leaving them afraid of what this means for the future of international football.
Former Australia captain Paul Wade made his thoughts about the celebration clear, stating "if you're playing for your country, you're not playing for a local sponsor."
That really is at the heart of this ongoing debate; What is the motivation of the player? Has Cahill become so arrogant that he is using the Socceroos just as a vehicle to serve his commercial interests?
The initial reaction, of course, is to believe that Cahill is out of order. No player should put personal gain ahead of the ethical framework of the sport, and the national team in particular are sacrosanct in that regard. It's a very noble suggestion that we've all heard -- and likely espoused ourselves -- many times before.
But, surely, when the national team in question have a naming rights partner, and each player dons the boots of their apparel sponsor while receiving a healthy appearance fee, it is time to admit those lines blurred a long time ago. Like it or not, all professional sporting teams are commercial commodities. National teams are no different.
That's not to say that what Cahill did should be praised or replicated -- it appears that he effectively sold his signature move for a nice holiday, after all.
It just seems a little extreme to suggest that someone who has given so much for the jersey has damaged the moral fibre of the game with one goal celebration -- particularly one that most people didn't notice until the sponsor posted about it on Instagram later that night.
Which begs the question, would -- or should -- the reaction be different if the player involved was someone other than Cahill? Have Football Federation Australia not taken further action simply because the team can't do without him?
For both questions, one would hope the answer is no.
Ultimately, what matters most when assessing behaviour is intent, and it is hard to believe Cahill performed this act with any sort of malice in his mind.
Did he let this new sponsorship deal compromise his performance? Were his teammates at a disadvantage because of his planned celebration? Was anyone hurt by his actions? Did he aim to do anything other than win, and play well for his country? Of course not.
Cahill once again put in an extraordinary shift against Syria. Two months shy of his 38th birthday, the Melbourne City man scored a brace and played 120 gruelling, emotional minutes in his 103rd appearance for Australia.
Taking time after a goal to give a shout out to a sponsor may not be everyone's cup of tea. Having taken them out of the moment of ecstasy, it understandably makes people feel uncomfortable to be reminded their sporting heroes are cashing in on the international stage.
But when it comes to Tim Cahill, you can't possibly question his desire to do right by his teammates and country first and foremost.
Over the last 13 years he has delivered an untold number of joyous moments to Australian football fans, with perhaps more to come against Honduras next month.
Rob Brooks writes about Australian football and the A-League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @RobNJBrooks