Everton's Tim Cahill has paid tribute to the "genius" of Guus Hiddink, the coach of Australia when Cahill made his name globally at the 2006 World Cup and now the manager of Chelsea, opponents in tomorrow's FA Cup final at Wembley.
"He was amazing, a very regimented guy, very disciplined," says Cahill, who scored Australia's first and second goals at a World Cup finals, in a 3-1 win over Japan. "If you see what Guus has done to Chelsea, it's obvious. He's gone in there and cleaned it up. It was messy before and now it's nice and tidy and the boys have got direction... As a man and for what he's achieved in football, I've always said Guus is a genius, a tactician, a master."
Australia qualified for the knockout phase of that World Cup, only to lose in the last 16 to a controversial penalty against Italy. The achievement was still the best in their history. "Guus was the final piece of the puzzle for Australia and I suppose he gave us direction," Cahill says. "We've had some good managers in the past but what he brought was a presence, and a lot of other countries were scared of that. He gave us more confidence, and he was always so confident. He would say, 'Don't worry about it, you are going to win'.
"We would look around and think to ourselves, OK we're going to win. It's that slight bit of arrogance that was special about him, but also it was great to have someone of his calibre to work with. And hopefully come the weekend we can get the better of him."
Cahill began the season with a career-threatening foot injury that required revolutionary repair surgery in Australia at the hands of the pioneering physician Dr Kim Slater. Since returning to action in September in a game against Stoke where his winner turned around an awful start to Everton's season, the midfielder has been influential in whichever of the numerous positions he has been used, including in "hard, physical battles" up front.
If selected tomorrow as expected, he will become the first Australian to start in two FA Cup finals – he was on the losing side for Millwall in 2004 – and hopes to become only the second Australia international, after Harry Kewell in 2006, to win the Cup. Everton's non-international Aussie goalkeeper Jason Kearton got a medal without leaving the bench in 1995.
"Every game I play in the Premier League, I've got Australia behind me," Cahill says. "And the FA Cup is one of the most prestigious cups in the world, something that I'm passionate about because I watched it as a kid."
Cahill was recently cited back home as Australia's most influential sportsman, a label he cherishes. "Every time I go on the pitch I want to be a leader. I want to be someone who changes a game, whether it's a tackle or heading the ball off the line, or a set-play, scoring a goal."