It really is a hoot to talk about new arrivals into your favorite club. That’s true pretty much across the board, whether your banner flies in MLS, Premier League, Liga MX or for that little team down in Italy’s second tier that you adopted during sophomore year abroad.
Fawning over new players is like going starry-eyed over a new girlfriend – only you don’t have to worry about what mom or your pals will say.
But you know what can be just as important to club fortunes as heralding the new men? Knowing when to say goodbye when someone just isn’t working out.
That’s the hard truth; while it’s way more sexy to talk about headliner signings, titles are also won by pruning a roster prudently.
We just saw it with Tim Cahill’s release by mutual consent Monday from the New York Red Bulls. It was the right move for the Red Bulls, even if the Australian international has long been a quality player and generally a locker room leader.
Cahill never quite fit at Red Bull Arena. He was always something of an ill-fitting suit, in fact. Not a bad suit – not at all. Just a pricey one that didn’t quite hit this particular customer just right. And who wants to spend a bunch of money on new threads that can’t make you look like a million bucks? You can do that for a lot less investment.
Raw numbers can’t always tell the tale, of course, but in this case they probably say enough: 14 goals and 10 assists in 62 matches is fairly ordinary.
Also from the file of “impossible to ignore:” Cahill was mostly on the bench during the Red Bulls’ most important playoff matches in 2014. He did start the post-season opener, but only made the starting 11 again when Bradley Wright-Phillips lost his mind, collecting one of the most absurdly timed yellow cards of all time and earning a suspension for it.
Going way back, Cahill always looked and felt more like a support player. A very good one, but still a support type, more crusty old drill sergeant than wily colonel. He could do a lot of things well, and there is surely a value to that. Cahill could be a significant force as a worker bee and role player at Everton, which is why the man affectionately known as “Tiny Tim” was such a beloved figured around Goodison Park for all those years. But the current economics of MLS mean that Designated Players must be difference makers, not role players or support types.
Upon his arrival into MLS in the summer of 2012, Cahill immediately looked like a tough fit, something of a ‘tweener positionally. You can have one of those in MLS, of course, even an expensive one. But teams have to mold their attacks around him, the way the Red Bulls did with Thierry Henry or the Sounders are doing with Clint Dempsey.
Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but the Red Bulls already had their man of special circumstance around which to build. That was Henry. And who would argue that an attack should be formed around Cahill at Henry’s expense?
During that completely wheels-off town hall meeting in January, new manager Jesse Marsch suggested that Cahill needed to decide if his heart was in it, if he really wanted to be part of the new plan around Red Bull Arena. That’s certainly not how a new manager should launch a relationship with his potential locker room leader and top wage earner.
The Red Bulls are rebuilding, and nothing about a 35-year-old who was apparently upset about the lack of a contract extension says “rebuild.”
Signing Cahill was probably a mistake all along, although you could reasonably argue otherwise. But the argument became harder and harder to make that the Aussie international was right for New York in 2015.
Teams that hide from personnel mistakes are victims of their own egos; they don’t want to admit they were wrong, so they deserve whatever they get. But clubs that cop to mistakes and then move to correct them – more or less what the Red Bulls did Monday – well, those clubs are giving themselves a fighting chance, at very least.
Read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk. .
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