Doha, 8 October 2019. A familiar face, that has paid a lot of attention in every session of the Global Summit, is former Australian international Tim Cahill, who is currently starting his coaching career at the academy of Everton FC. In the following interview he reflects on his journey as a footballer, that took him all over the globe, his approach to youth coaching and sport science and the rise of football in Qatar.
Tim, you are currently here in Doha at the “Aspire Academy Global Summit” on Football Performance & Science. What role has sport science played in your career as a footballer?
Sport science was very big for me as a player having played a really tough schedule internationally, having to travel all over the world and then also playing in the Premier League made long distance flights necessary. You play a game in England, fly on a Sunday or Monday to Australia, play on a Wednesday and then travel back to England to play on a Sunday. Recovery is important, the aspect or the way to look at it is for me has three pillars: first is nutrition, second is the basis of the physical output of what you put in and third is the sleep element. I really feel it’s important to have an understanding of your body and take your own education as a player and also take as much from the facilities and the people you have around you.
You have just attended a discussion on “Optimizing the recovery process in youth players”, what are the things that you take with you from this session?
To see the thoughts and comments from different clubs around the world was very interesting and for me the main thing that I take is not to give too much to kids young and to make them a bit resilient, but also to focus in the neural world about the mental aspects and the psychology of younger players.
Since you were just talking about younger players, here is a question that is quite crucial. How can you, as a coach, support them in the best possible way to make the successful step from youth to senior player in a professional football club?
Supporting the development for youth coming into the first team has to be an infrastructure with a philosophy that starts on the top and feeds us all the way down. This is my opinion. I feel when you have the same implementation of recovery, philosophy and training Qatar is a very good example of this with the way they nurture the children and they bring them to ranks through their league or through their school or through their education and also with their national team they have the same behaviors and habits and continuity which brings a chemistry that is very important.
So obviously having a clear philosophy in youth development at club or an academy can be a really helpful tool for coaches. But to what extent is it important for coaches to develop their own philosophies?
For starting my journey in coaching I feel that it’s really important that I have an identity, that I understand my beliefs and that my beliefs can be projected throughout the club. It starts with incorporating the beliefs of the guy upstairs and he works it down and then I have to implement it and educate the children in this way and also add a little bit of my spice as well if it’s allowed.
You actually put your experiences and your journey in football in a children’s book series called “Tiny Timmy”. How did you come up with this idea and what is it you want to achieve with it?
I was always that kid that was too small, that was told it’s not strong enough and not going to make it. And through my books I give a little bit of hope to that one boy or girl to have a little bit of inspiration and maybe they can do something special in their lives. I write these books with my children and at the same time I implement my journey of wanting to be a professional football player and the steps and the pitfalls and the understanding how difficult it is for someone coming from Australia to qualify for a World Cup, to win an Asian Cup and making dreams and aspirations not only for Australian kids, but also children from Qatar, China or India. If I can do it, if Qatar can win the Asian Cup, that shows that it’s possible to make dreams a reality. Through these books I tell a story in laymen’s terms with characters, my children are in the book and right now I’m heading to Australia mid-month to launch to tenth book focused on education within schools to help with dyslexia, reading and to keep children inspired and also use the educational side to help them to read.
Tim, you have had an interesting playing career with clubs in Australia, England, the US, China or India. Most players tend to stay at one club for most of their careers or at least in the same league. Why did you decide to go to countries were football had not reached the level or the popularity the sport had in Europe at that time?
Having played 15 years in England and at two World Cups at that time, I projected a portfolio that was different to every other player. I wanted to play in the biggest countries in the world and that was India and China. This is something special for an Asian athlete, and I thought that if I go and play there and live and understand the culture, maybe one day this will help me not only in sport and football, but in business, in the way that I think, in the way I communicate with players on an international level and also for the coaching path. I went to the MLS at a time when it was on the rise with players like David Beckham and Thierry Henry and then I even back to Australia. So I hit four main continents and I’m very proud of that. I covered a lot of the Middle East and also Asia with the Asian qualifiers, playing in four Asian Cups, I covered a lot of Europe with World Cups and other things. I’ve had a vast integration of football methodically being smart enough to be different, to not follow the same suit. I’m someone that enjoys the commercial element, the business element of football and also the cultural part. I’m very privileged to have gone on this path and now being 39 and sharing this journey and understanding emotions and attitudes within coaching and different styles.
Qatar is hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022, you have quite a World Cup history yourself: You were the first Australian to score at a World Cup, you played in three different editions. From your perspective, what makes a World Cup such a special event?
For a player there is nothing bigger than playing at a World Cup. You play for your country, you play for your badge. I played for 28 million people in Australia, whether I was on the bench or on the pitch scoring goals, it was a privilege to be part of this group for so many years, breaking so many records and being a pinnacle to young kids.
You have heard a lot about the development of Qatar’s football over the last two days. What do you think about their approach to youth football development and what do you expect of Qatar’s national team at the 2022 FIFA World Cup?
I think that people need to understand the progression over the last ten years, the understanding of infrastructure and the long-term goal they’ve put in, not only in this team winning the Asian Cup or going to the World Cup, but underneath. The layers and layers and layers of everyone being on the same page from the Qatar Football Association to Aspire Academy to everything coming together to have the chemistry to really create an opportunity that no other country can do with the facilities, with having the players full-time, which is a massive advantage. And also what they have been doing over the last ten years, to win an Asian Cup with this population, with the amount of children playing football, is incredible. And with that dream alone it sets a whole different benchmark with which comes pressure to perform at the World Cup. But the measure of success is what they have done over the last ten years and the momentum they can kick on and find new ideas and then integrate the youngsters into these sorts of tournaments. They should be very proud. A lot of people are looking over Qatar with envy and they are seeing the layers starting to show its true colors. They deserve all the credit, because they really worked hard for it.