Fresh off the plane from South Africa after a redeemed World Cup campaign, Socceroo Tim Cahill used his time before this weekend's clash between Everton and Sydney FC to visit his very first club: the Marrickville Red Devils. We tagged along and stole five minutes.
It's perhaps a testament to the FIFA franchise that those who've played football professionally seem to catch on mighty fast when they pick up the controller. SBS Senior Football Analyst Craig Foster was able to take a goal off me last year while promoting FIFA 10, shortly after I had explained what the buttons do.
A knack for positioning and reading the play just seems to come with the territory. Tim Cahill is no exception - he lures you into thinking he's not that good, but he can contend with Australia's top competitive players.
But rather than just talk about FIFA, or just football, he used the otherwise promotional occasion to help inspire the Marrickville youngsters to work hard. After arriving, it was made clear that under no circumstances was Cahill to play with his old club. Legal reasons prevented it, and word had come from on high - they could kick a ball around, but he'd be restricted to chats with the media.
He played with them anyway.
The next 20 minutes contained of some of the most worried expressions ever to wash over the collective faces of EA PR. Looking into their eyes was like looking into a crystal ball. The worst-case scenario being played out over and over: the ambitious slide tackle from young, energetic legs, the misplaced studs, the call from Everton management the next day...
As is happens, Cahill did cop a studding or two. But he shook it off, posed for a few photos with the kids, and then sat down for a few questions.
Craig Foster spoke to us last time, and dobbed you in as a bit of a FIFA nut...
Yeah, definitely. I think for me, I'm lucky, I love gaming. This for me is something I play a lot with the Everton boys and obviously the Australian boys, but mostly with my kids. It's a nice way to interact, and it's a lot of competition, I'm very competitive so I'm a massive fan.
Is it just an extension of your passion for football?
It’s definitely an extension, because I suppose it tests a different sort of competitiveness. With the lads, we've got Vaughny, Victor, Bainesy and Jakes, we're very very competitive and we play 2v2, and obviously we're playing against each other. It's pretty exciting, we play knockouts and stuff. The other day, my son tried to teach me how to chip a ball when I'm going 1 on 1 with the keeper, because he always presses triangle and brings him out to tackle me, so you learn something all the time.
Who's the best player on the Australian team?
Me! Nah, heheh, to my kids, it's me. But I suppose it's Schwarzy. He's pretty much been a rock for me when I use him. But I'm just happy that with the stats, I'm the best in the game at something. I think it's heading, so I'm pretty proud of that.
FIFA 11's Personality+ system aims to accentuate players' strengths and weaknesses. You're frequently the smallest guy on the pitch, yet keep managing to find those header goals. How will the game interpret that - will virtual Cahill still be deadly on the headers?
Of course! I hope so! I was with the EA and FIFA guys before, and they were speaking a lot and they were asking a lot of questions about myself, and things like that. I suppose when you give feedback and then you see the finished product, just the personality and likeness, you pinch yourself and say "Wow, that's me!"
But I suppose the main reaction I'm waiting for is from people who can relate to me, the Aussie public, and I'll get all their impressions of what it's like. But so far it's been very positive and I'm very happy to be a part of it.
How do you drift away from guys like Vidic and find the header? Do you worry about copping an elbow?
Nah not really, if I take one, I take one. I think that’s the beauty of it. You get knocks, and you get up, and when they see you keep getting up, it knocks the wind out of them. It’s always sweet when you score, and they think, "Oh, not that guy again, how did he get there?"
You just try to find space, and be a bit cute and clever. And make sure you’re always on the shoulder. They know that you’re there, but it’s another thing trying to stop you.
Do you ever look at yourself in the game and go, That's not my nose!
Haha, obviously sometimes you think you look a lot better than what you are. Nah, I'm happy. The guys have obviously put in a lot of time and effort. And for me, I can play Australia vs Everton so there's 2 Tim Cahills for my kids to keep them happy.
Any conflict of loyalty going into this weekend's match?
Nah, for us, it's good to have Everton out here. The one thing is, it's promoting football. I'm down here with the kids at Tempe oval, there's players here that I played with as a kid. And for them to relate to me through gaming, and FIFA, y'know, they're all talking about how much they love it. I think for me, some of the biggest ambassadors in sport represent this brand and it's a pleasure to be associated with it.
If you were playing FIFA Manager Mode, what would you have done differently against Germany?
It's tough...I think I would've made sure my players played better! I think everyone talks about the formation and things like that, but look at the result against Argentina and England that they had, and you question what would they have done different as well. So I suppose, when a team's on fire, they're on fire. But I'd probably try to keep 11 players on the pitch! (laughs)
Have you noticed any up & coming talent out here?
Yeah absolutely, there's a few kids out there that are really good and I’m having a chat with them and trying to inspire them and trying to explain to them how I made it through hard work. It’s the hardest thing to explain to kids that they actually have to train every day. And not just watch TV, or be lazy. And then again, just to enjoy it.
Or play video games?
Or play video games! But for me, it helps your hand-eye co-ordination, my kids are only 7 and 5 and they’re amazing on it. I struggle to beat them and my nephews, it’s amazing how clever they are with the games.
I understand at first you didn’t want to get into football?
I suppose I wasn’t enthusiastic because I was younger than everyone else and I started quite early. The thing is, when you’re younger, you don’t like getting kicked, and the ball hitting you in the face. It was one of those ones where I took a bit of persuading because sometimes it was a bit cold, and as I got older, it became my passion.
Photos by James Morgan