I put the question some time ago to a mate of mine (also an Everton fan) of who, in his opinion, is our best player? Several names came back: Yakubu possibly — having looked a monumental waste of space at times early on in his time with us, he turned it around impressively over the course of last season and, if he maintained that level was starting to look good value — this before his injury of course; Osman — an unexpected option, but according to that dreadful clichéd saying, football is all about opinions — a player I do like, as it happens; Jagielka was starting to make a case for himself, and of course there were the usual suspects: Cahill and Arteta.
My mate then told me he'd stake his mortgage on who I'd pick myself, and he was right. Ever since he first arrived on loan, I have been harping on to anyone who will listen, and quite a few who won't, that Mikel Arteta is a fantastic footballer. He looked a class act straight away, but I didn't realise at first quite how skilful he is, how wonderful he is to watch when he's on form.
Fantastic attitude too, and he always says the right thing when faced with the inevitable questions about his future or his international aspirations. I won't bore you all eulogising him, or bemoaning his loss to this awful injury, as you don't need to hear it again from me and in any case this piece isn't about him. It's about Cahill.
Conventional wisdom among non-Evertonians holds that it isn't our favourite Spaniard who takes top spot in our list, it's our favourite Anglo-Samoan Australian. The statistics back this up to some degree, as we get better results with him than without; though in all honesty we could probably have put our finger on that fact by gut feeling without needing to research the numbers.
It's a somewhat academic argument which of the two is better, although the thought occurs that, if we could somehow combine them into one uber-midfielder, we'd have one hell of a player on our hands... Given that we don't have an equivalent replacement for Arteta, it follows that some of the load while he is missing from the team is going to be transferred to the other players, and the first shoulders it's going to land on will be those of Cahill.
Which is unfortunate, as he's had plenty on his shoulders this season already having had to fill in for Yakubu, Saha, Vaughan and Anichebe all at the same time. And yet here's what makes Cahill the asset he is: despite being deployed in an unfamiliar role, carrying weight that would be borne by others were they available, as well as doing what he does for us as per normal, he just does it. And does it well.
It doesn't seem to matter what demands you make, or what responsibility you pile onto him, he responds to it. No moaning, no mouthing off in the press about playing out of position like certain others elsewhere have done, no complaints of tiredness. All he'll say about it is, it's an honour to play for this club in whatever position you are asked to. Class.
How lucky we are, not just to have him now when we need a player like him, but to have him at all. Here's where the trousers thing comes in: it's borrowed from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, and the idea is that somewhere near the fly of the trousers is crucial point in time where a decision is made or an event happens, the result of which decision or event can send the subject down either leg of the trousers. If that's a bit off-the-wall for you, it's really just another way of describing the premise of Sliding Doors, the movie in which Gwyneth Paltrow's character just catches a train... or just misses it; the film explores the different paths her life would have taken in each circumstance.
Cahill's transfer from Millwall in the summer of 2004 bore similarities to either or both of these. He was all set to join newly-promoted Crystal Palace, just as Everton seemed about to self-cannibalise — Trevor Birch was appointed chief executive and left before the sign on his office door even got changed; Bill Kenwright and Paul Gregg were too busy arguing with each other to notice he'd come or gone; after a terrible season on the pitch in 2003-04 David Moyes's stock with the fans was very low and the dressing room atmosphere was apparently thick with tension; and, to put a tin lid on it all, we were about to sell our best player.
Everton were already the bookies' favourites for the drop at this point. Into this chaos stepped the Crystal Palace chairman, who made it clear to Cahill's representatives that, while his hand was on that club's purse strings, there was no way their cut of the money in the transfer was coming from that source. They worked for the player, not Palace. An admirable stance, some might say... Cahill, meanwhile, had also attracted Moyes's attention and a deal was done (evidently to the agent's satisfaction) to sign him for Everton, and we all know what happened next over the course of 2004-05.
It's a huge over-simplification to suggest that at the fly of the trousers, as Pratchett might have it, had things turned out differently in their chairman’s office Crystal Palace would have gone down the Champions League leg on the back of Cahill's hugely impressive season and Everton down the relegation leg instead of vice versa, but rather less so to say that it's very possible both clubs would not be in quite the situation they now find themselves...
How much of this relative success we are now enjoying — and perhaps even David Moyes’s continued employment by the club — can be traced directly or indirectly to the signing of Cahill, and therefore hinges on the margin by which Paltrow's Crystal Palace missed that particular train, is impossible to quantify and we'll never know. But if you're into this sort of philosophical debate, consider the following argument:
Simon Jordan — Everton legend?
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