Australia legend Tim Cahill exits as the most effective Socceroos player of all time
It seems as though a large hole has been left in Australian football following the international retirement of Socceroos legend Tim Cahill.
Not that the news came as a shock to anyone. It was inevitable that Cahill would exit the international stage at this time. It has been in the cards for some time. After making 107 appearances for his country and becoming its greatest goal scorer with 50 goals, it was simply the right time for the 38-year-old to step aside.
That fact was confirmed when the forward played just 37 minutes at this year's World Cup in Russia, despite Australia's first-choice striker, Tomi Juric, battling fitness concerns. Cahill showed all of the energy and hustle he could in his limited game time, but that, sadly, is no longer enough.
Not that Cahill needs to prove himself. Of course, if anything, the opposite is true. He will, without question, be remembered as the most effective Socceroos player of all time.
He might not have had the natural ability to beat players and create chances that Harry Kewell did -- particularly in his youth, before injuries curbed his career -- nor did he have the raw physical tools of a Mark Viduka. But what set Cahill apart was an insatiable hunger to win, especially in the big moments.
His brace in Australia's historic 3-1 win over Japan at the 2006 World Cup, followed by his stunning, left-footed volley against the Netherlands in Brazil eight years later, highlighted Cahill's ability to be a difference-maker. And he knew it -- and no doubt still does.
That confidence, allied with his clutch performances, made defenders incredibly uneasy. There was a constant threat when Cahill was on the pitch, which is now the void Cahill's absence has created.
The Socceroos have no other players within their ranks with that innate ability to change a game to their will. Indeed, there are very few attacking players in goal-scoring form at all at the present time.
The one possible exception to that rule is Daniel Arzani, who made his international debut last month, just as Cahill was departing the scene. Despite being linked with Roma and Manchester City, it seems premature to say that Arzani will carry on where Cahill left off. The 19-year-old doesn't deserve that pressure and has not yet shown that he can be consistently effective at that level.
Perhaps Arzani will be the long-term answer the Socceroos have been looking for. He certainly has the same swagger as Cahill. He just needs more time, and Australia should be patient enough to give it to him.
But regardless of what is to come for the national team, nobody will erase the mark made by Cahill. His performances across four World Cups, three Asian Cups and countless crucial moments in between will forever be remembered in Australia.
His achievements on the biggest stages in world football helped him transcend the sport in his homeland. Cahill is a household name in Australia for all the right reasons. Almost certainly, he will use that power to help the game in other ways now that he has called time on his international career.
As defenders and corner flags alike breathe a long-awaited sigh of relief, football fans across Australia should rest assured that this is not the last we've seen of the Socceroos' greatest treasure.