Much was said at the New York Red Bulls' mid-January Town Hall. Among that much: head coach Jesse Marsch took on the Tim Cahill situation, which has been brewing since the Australian DP dodged a question about returning to RBNY in 2015 at the end of the team's 2014 season.
Marsch was prompted to comment by season ticket holder "Mike", who made the astute observation that Cahill appeared to be holding the team "hostage" with his refusal to commit publicly to another year with RBNY, and asked how long into the transfer window the team was willing to let the situation drag on.
The head coach took a deep breath, and said:
Uh...So...I have communicated with Tim down in Australia, he's in the Asian Cup. Listen...there are certain things that are said in this room that I know have a good chance of getting out...I see video right here [Knowing laughter from the audience]...but honestly trying to have the kind of relationship with you: I want you guys to get to know me, and I hope that you guys...uh, uh...well, I want to get to know you guys as well.
So far so good: Marsch is not naive; he is inclined to be honest and open but also aware such comments could (will...have...it's a worldwide web we are on) find their way back to Cahill and his representatives. So we expect some carefully chosen words on this subject.
Tim is tricky, OK? He's a great player, we all know that. It's hard to figure out whether he wants to be here or not. So we have to have a hard discussion with him to figure out if he wants to be here, and then, if he wants to be here, what the terms are, OK? Because if he's gonna be here, he's gotta be part of this team like he gives..like it's in his heart, OK? It can't just be because there's a big paycheck. So, at some point...[Hearty applause]...is that, is that going to stay here?
Nope. It's not going to stay in Harrison. Sorry, Jesse.
But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing the coach said it. We have a little more insight into the club's perspective on Cahill's situation and that perspective suggests Cahill probably isn't coming back.
None of the major figures who presided over the team in 2014 are remaining: Andy Roxburgh, Mike Petke, Robin Fraser - all are gone. The events that led to Cahill being benched toward the end of the season, and his occasionally vocal dissatisfaction with his experience at the club, are in the past. The new regime could have (indeed, may well have) treated this as a fresh start with their recalcitrant star. And they could have described a quite different sort of relationship with him: Cahill is under contract, we have a clear plan for his role on the team next year, we expect him to be playing for us as the world class player and team leader we know him to be. Something like that.
Marsch's honesty on the subject is to be applauded. It is also a strong suggestion Cahill is on the outs at RBNY, new coaching team or not. It is mid-January. The Australian likely expects to be playing in Asian Cup until the end of the month, by which time RBNY will have completed its first segment of pre-season training.
And Cahill has a plan - or at least strongly implied he did before he went into tournament mode. Characterizing him as having suspect commitment to RBNY (where he memorably defended Kenny Cooper in the aftermath of the 2012 playoff meltdown, and was the team's 2013 MVP) and perhaps only being in this for the money is not going to sit well with Cahill. He likes to present himself in almost opposite terms to those described at the Town Hall.
"I've never, ever worried about money and football because my ability will always be proven to earn money. When they get a vision like they do elsewhere – with a project and something that has impact – then we'll see."
Those comments were in the context of a return to Australia's A-League, and to address the perception he won't come back to play in his own country because the league wouldn't pay him sufficiently.
The point is not that Cahill's view of himself is somehow more or less valid than the one implied by Marsch. It is that the coach's comments speak to a club and player quite some distance apart.
Cahill wants to be seen as passionate about his sport, committed to club and country. In the space of a a few months and two different management regimes, RBNY has managed to suggest it does not respect his loyalty to his country, and now it doubts (with good reason) Cahill's commitment to his club.
The Australian has said publicly he has announcement to make about his future: "it will take a month or so, but when it does, I think people will be quietly impressed with what I'm trying to do."
That statement appeared just before Ali Curtis mentioned he had to sit down with Cahill as part of his first comments to the press after joining the team, before everyone's attention shifted from questions about the roster to questions about the mental health of the club's senior management.
It doesn't seem much has changed since then. There is still a need for "discussion", Cahill is on the other side of the world, the club appears to be keeping its distance. Further circumstantial evidence: we haven't seen much cheerleading on the official RBNY website for the Designated Player it has competing in Asian Cup.
It increasingly seems as though "Tricky" Tim Cahill's status as a Red Bull is nothing more than a contractual technicality.