Wednesday February 4th, 2015

NEW YORK — Recently crowned Asian Cup champion Tim Cahill is leaving the New York Red Bulls for Shanghai Shenhua, but he had time for an exit interview on Wednesday at the launch of New Balance’s new global soccer brand. And what Cahill had to say made some sense.

No, he has no hard feelings toward the Red Bulls, who agreed to terminate his contract with a year left on it (He remains sponsored by the energy drink, in fact).

Tim Cahill in MLS (inc. playoffs)
MLS ALL-STAR 2 ('13, '14)
MLS BEST XI 1 ('13)
TROPHIES 1 ('13 Supporters' Shield)

Yes, he’s proud that he helped lead the Red Bulls to the franchise’s first significant trophy (the 2013 Supporters' Shield) and to within a goal of last year’s MLS Cup final. And yes, even though he wasn’t satisfied with his playing time toward the end of last season, he was stunned when coach Mike Petke was fired after those two seasons in charge.

“I texted him straight away,” Cahill said. “You always have respect for your manager regardless, and he couldn’t have done any more unless we’d won the MLS Cup. So he should and hopefully will get another job in the MLS surely on his portfolio. Two seasons: Supporters' Shield and one goal from the final. So I really feel for him. He’s a fan favorite. They loved him, but they loved him for a reason. Because he loved the club more than anyone else ever will. I know that for a fact.”

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The Red Bulls are moving in an entirely different direction these days. So many figures have departed from last season: Thierry Henry, sporting director Andy Roxburgh (replaced by Ali Curtis), Petke (replaced by Jesse Marsch) and other players like Jámison Olave, Eric Alexander and Ambroise Oyongo. Cahill says he spoke briefly with Curtis on the phone—it was short due to the time difference in Australia—and e-mailed with Marsch.

But the club’s transformation didn’t feel like an ideal fit for Cahill at age 35.

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“To be honest, it probably was a new transition for the club, and I am an older player,” he said. “It’s a new change. When I first got there, we were part of that new change. And we changed the club and we really did help grow the club and the brand and everything. Now it’s starting all over again, and it’s difficult. The new coach, he looks like he’s really experienced, and he’s got a big appetite for the game, the same as the GM.

“But I feel when you start all over again, at 35 years old I don’t know whether I’m ready to do that. Especially with some influential players [gone]: Oyongo, one of the top performers from last year; Eric Alexander, the most consistent player I ever played with at the Red Bulls, a player that me and Thierry spoke very highly of time and time again; Olave, one of the best defenders in the league. So it definitely is a new transition for the New York Red Bulls, and you can see there’s a method to what he’s doing there, and I think it’s going to take time. But I wish them all the very best.”

To Cahill’s credit, he created value on the open market with his performances over the past year for Australia, whether it was at the World Cup (where he scored arguably the goal of the tournament) or at the recent Asian Cup (where he helped lead Australia to a stirring victory on home soil). He told me that he views the Asian Cup triumph as an even bigger accomplishment for Australian soccer than anything that has happened at a World Cup.

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After the World Cup, Cahill said, he explored offers to go on loan to Premier League teams, but he learned such a move wouldn't be allowed. He had several options, including some in the Middle East, and he said he even spoke to his old Everton manager, David Moyes, about Real Sociedad in Spain. “It was interest, but it wasn’t an offer,” Cahill said.

In the end, he went with the Shanghai club.

“Shanghai is a beautiful city, and the club I’m signing for is a massive club with amazing owners,” he said. “It’s something unique and different.”

But he added that he’ll leave a piece of himself with New York Red Bulls fans for what was accomplished during his two-plus years in MLS. “I honestly feel I can tick off the New York Red Bulls as a success,” he said. “Because after 18 years without a trophy I was part of [winning one], and every time I come back to New York I can get a seat in the crowd and feel something special with the supporters.”

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