Cahill keeps driving Everton forwards

A touch of typical Aussie aggression is needed to build on last season. Ronald Atkin reports
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The Independent Football

Everton were not exactly dozing last season when they achieved that rare feat of finishing ahead of city rivals Liverpool by claiming the Premiership's fourth spot and a place in European competition for the first time in 20 years.And, claim his many admirers, Everton's revival and Cahill's arrival were no coincidence.

While insisting that Everton's high finish in 2004-05 was no fluke, Cahill acknowledges that a repeat will not be easy. "After the season we have had, there is so much pressure on us now. We will be under the microscope. A huge club like Everton have money to buy, but we have to be careful how we spend it. We can bring in top players, but the question is whether they are going to gel with the team's style."

That style is to graft ceaselessly, just as Cahill himself does. "Every time we had to step up to the plate last season we did it," he said. "And the only way we did it was through hard work. So now we have to do the same. There was no pressure on us last year, we had nothing to prove to anyone, just to ourselves and the fans. Those fans deserve it, because it is years since we finished in front of Liverpool. Everyone involved would love to see us do it again, but we can't afford to look that far ahead. As soon as we do that we will feel the consequences. You don't want to be thinking big time and then have things backfiring."

Everton's renewed involvement with Europe was a sharp example of ambitions backfiring, with a home loss to Villarreal indicating early departure from the Champions' League. But Cahill is talking a good fight for this week's second leg in Spain. "We have one chance to make our name. We are very positive and we still have a chance. That's all that matters. We had some good results away from home last season and [Villarreal] are going to be wary, because we are a very physical side. We don't hide away, we are a team of hard-working lads who will run through brick walls. That's the quality we have as a team. We have to try to intimidate them and get an early goal."

Intimidation didn't work at Goodison, where Villarreal's goalkeeper accused Everton of being "animals" after one collision with Cahill. He shrugs. "I went for a 50-50 chance. As a keeper, he gets to use his hands, so it's not something I'm pulling out of. If I've got half a chance of scoring, then I am going to go in there."

Now 25, the Sydney-born son of an English father, Cahill learned how to look after himself early in six seasons with Millwall, which ended with an appearance in the FA Cup final. It was his ability as a midfielder to score goals while also doing a good job of defending which persuaded David Moyes to take what many considered a gamble by dipping down a division to make the purchase.

The "gamble" worked so well that Cahill was Everton's Player of the Year, scoring a dozen goals. Admitting that he has developed that ability to arrive late in the box from watching players like Paul Scholes, Cahill says, "I have a good engine." He agrees that the step-up in divisions meant he needed it. "Too often at Millwall I was in a comfort zone. Things were a lot easier. But there is no way I'm going to let that happen at Everton. I always want to be the strongest player on the pitch, and the most complete.

"I just wanted the chance to show I could do it. What you have to find is extra pace, you have to speed up in every way. That's what happened last season. It's all about finding your feet and then keeping them on the floor, not getting ahead of yourself."

And this polite and quietly spoken hard man is convinced that, even if Everton fail in Spain this week, they are still capable of winning something this season. If not in the Premiership, then in Uefa competition or a domestic cup.

It all adds up to a challenging wake-up call from Down Under for a sleeping giant.