When did it start to feel inevitable that Tim Cahill would not be seeing out the last year of his contract with the New York Red Bulls?
Was it December 1, 2014, when he slipped into the past tense on the subject of RBNY and ducked a question about his future at the club? Per Empire Of Soccer:
"Who knows, mate," Cahill said about his future plans. "You know. I’m going to have a little break with the kids. Chill out. I’m going to play in Asia Cup and try and do well for my country.
Was it December 13, when he stepped off a plane to a welcome-home interview in Australia and seemed to be choking back a combination of irritation and incredulity at the suggestion RBNY might have a say in his plans for 2015?
Maybe December 15 when he started talking about his "next decision"? Or December 22 when he promised he would announce a plan for his future after Asian Cup that would leave people "quietly impressed", while RBNY's newly-appointed sporting director, Ali Curtis, made comments to suggest he hadn't really been following Cahill's month-long articulation of an exit strategy.
By January 17, the new Red Bulls' management regime had clearly caught up: Jesse Marsch was telling us "Cahill is tricky" and strongly implying player and club were not aligned with regard to their ideas about his future.
Maybe it's just the cumulative effect of all that which made the announcement of a "tentative deal" for Cahill to move to Al Wahda in the UAE not-at-all surprising. And that news appears to have tipped us into the end-game of the Australian's time with RBNY.
In scarcely more than 24 hours since the Al Wahda report dropped, there has been a steady proliferation of news distancing Cahill from his current club.
A "source close to the Australian" took the time to talk to the New York Post's Brian Lewis: "It appears he wants move on."
Nonetheless, it is significant that we're getting reports popping up over here that seem to be in the service of helping Cahill ease himself out of the Red Bulls' grasp. A similarly well-positioned source gave BigAppleSoccer.com's Kristian Dyer almost an almost identical statement to that reported by Lewis.
"Cahill might not want to be a part of the team moving forward and the team will do its best to cooperate."
"The team will do its best to cooperate."
We're basically down to a discussion of the terms of his departure.
This makes sense, because over in Australia, in the midst of the Socceroos' run to the Asian Cup final, all the talk is about Cahill's next move. Al Wahda has mentioned "major competition" for the Australian's signature from outside the UAE. Australia's Daily Telegraph mentions "a dozen expressions of interest" from clubs in China, UAE and Qatar, including Chinese heavyweights Shanghai Shenhua and Guangzhou Evergrande.
SBS, an Australian broadcaster, is reporting UAE's Al-Ahli is ready to an 18-month, $6 million contract (presumably, Australian currency, so around US$4.8 mn) for Cahill's services. The Sidney Morning Herald has already started looking past the next move to the one after that, suggesting Cahill could be the face of a new A-League club in a few years.
Where does this leave the Red Bulls? Not in a great position: most reports mention RBNY and MLS, if at all, in the context of a free transfer for Cahill to his next destination. That would also appear to be the implication of the suggestion RBNY would be well advised to "cooperate" with the Australian's wishes: he doesn't want to be here any more, let him go.
It's not an outrageous suggestion, though it is unclear whether the talk of free transfers is coming from sources within RBNY - inclined to treat the money saved on the last year of a multi-million dollar contract as a bonus in itself - or from Cahill's camp, which would doubtless prefer not have his current negotiations affected by MLS angling for a transfer fee. That said, the Telegraph does offer a very clear statement in its recent report:
It’s understood that Cahill’s MLS club, who have just started pre-season, have agreed to grant him a release and free transfer, with one year to run on his contract.
The Red Bulls are in a slightly delicate position. Whatever is being said in the papers, Cahill has basically clammed up about his future while still involved in Asian Cup, and the club is smart to follow suit. It does mean a lot of talk is going unanswered, but - at least in this case - that may not be down to RBNY's recent and curious reluctance to talk about anything; rather, it looks a lot like professionalism.
What about Cahill? It seems his greatest interest is time. He's 35, and has been talking up his fitness and desire for a multi-year deal: "I'd like to say the next contract I sign will be two to three years minimum." Repeatedly, it is suggested the discussion of the incoming offers for his services comes back to length of contract. The Telegraph reports Cahill was wistfully floating the idea of extending his time at RBNY in an interview before the start of Asian Cup:
"If I get an extra year (at the Red Bulls) it will be amazing, if not sometimes you look elsewhere,’’ Cahill told the Herald Sun.
And maybe that's the truth of it. Cahill wanted an extra year, RBNY did not: the two parties agree to disagree and he is allowed to find himself a deal more to his liking.
Maybe. Whatever the truth of the matter, Asian Cup is over on January 31: we don't have long to wait for this saga to end.