Tim Cahill’s stunning scoring run for Shanghai Shenhua is changing Australia’s reputation in China after the Socceroos striker avoided getting cut in July.
Cahill struck the decisive goal in Shenhua’s 2-1 win at Guizhou Renhe on Saturday, stabbing Giovanni Moreno’s cutback into the net from 10 yards to notch his eighth goal in 11 Chinese Super League (CSL) matches.
The Australia international’s first season in China started badly with the former Everton man taking seven games to open his account, while the arrival of Demba Ba and Momo Sissoko prompted speculation Cahill would be dumped due to the CSL’s restrictions on imports.
But Shenhua stuck with Cahill ahead of Brazilian forward Paulo Henrique – who was sent on loan to Liaoning Whowin – and have been rewarded as the Australian has led Francis Gillot’s men on a run of just two losses in 10 games.
Rival coach Mads Davidsen – who is an assistant to Sven-Goran Eriksson at Shanghai SIPG – has been impressed by how Cahill has won over Shenhua’s fans.
“He is starting to become a big name, especially in Shanghai. He’s extremely popular amongst the Shanghai Shenhua fans, for sure the most popular player right now,” Davidsen told Omnisport.
“He started relatively bad in the league, it took him time to understand he structure, the style of play here – and also his team-mates took a while to work out how to play with him because he is a player who needs good support.
“The coach also used him in a lot of different positions – suddenly he was a midfielder, then a central striker and then a winger, but now I think they’ve found out how to use him correctly and how to set him up.”
Since Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation and their players became eligible for Asian-specific import spots in the likes of the CSL, J. League and K-League, Asian clubs have generally signed defensive-minded Australian players.
But Cahill’s success is proving to the Chinese football community that Australian attackers can also be worth a look even with the amount of money in the CSL nowadays.
“Part of why they [Shenhua] stuck with him [Cahill] was the fans,” Davidsen said.
“The fans made a huge impact on social media that they wanted Cahill to stay.”
Two “classic Australians” – as Davidsen puts it – are central defenders Matthew Spiranovic and Adrian Leijer.
The Danish coach claims Spiranovic – another Australia international – and Leijer have impressed for CSL mid-table clubs Hangzhou and Chongqing Lifan, respectively.
“Spiranovic has lifted Hangzhou the last few games here, I have seen,” Davidsen said.
“Adrian Leijer is playing in a back five at Chongqing and he also looks solid.”