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Why Australia legend Tim Cahill must go with the flow at Shanghai Shenhua
Be careful what you eat, prepare to be kicked a lot and learn quickly that it is better sometimes just to go with the flow.
Thats the advice to newly arrived Shanghai Greenland Shenhua recruit Tim Cahill from the clubs former goalkeeping coach Ian Walker. The ex-England international is now working for rivals, Shanghai SIPG FC under his former Three Lions boss Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Australian international Cahill made his Chinese Super League (CSL) debut last Sunday as Shenhua defeated the third club from the city, Shanghai Shenxin. Substituted midway through the second half, the 35-year-old forward didnt get on the scoresheet as Shenhua won 6-2 in their season opener.
Walker, whos best known for a 12-year career at Tottenham Hotspur, predicted that Cahill would be a success in China after his move from New York Red Bulls, but warned him not to expect things to come easily.
Tim Cahill is earning a reported US$6 million per year in China after his move from New York Red Bulls.
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Sometimes foreign players underestimate how difficult playing in China is because the better teams are similar in standard to the English Championship, Walker toldESPN FC. Theyre tough, hard-working players here and the tackles fly in. Tim will need to be prepared to be kicked a lot.
Walker arrived at Shanghai Shenhua in 2012, the same year that Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka joined from Chelsea. Despite massive wages, Drogba lasted for only eight months and Anelka around one year.
It was a bit of a circus when we were all at Shenhua in 2012 and some of us were frustrated about many things including the fact that we werent always paid on time, Walker said. But luckily for Tim, the club has had a change of ownership and is run a lot better these days.
Having managed English non-league side Bishops Stortford in 2011, Walker was lured to Asia by the promise of much greater financial rewards to help Shenhuas emerging goalkeepers. But he admits that he almost quit more than half a dozen times during a difficult first year.
Its very hard at the beginning because if you dont know the language you can feel isolated, especially if youre staying in a hotel and your family isnt with you, he said. The food is also a lot different and you have to be careful about the places where you eat because a lot of foreigners have got sick from local food or water.
And then theres the Shanghais pollution that Tim might not be used to. Every day you have to go and train outside in the smog.
Because of his international profile, breaking down the barriers in the dressing room should be easier for Cahill than most other imports, according to Walker, whose SIPG FC goalkeeper Yan Junling was part of Chinas 2015 Asian Cup squad.
Cahill scored both goals as eventual champions Australia defeated the Chinese 2-0 in the Asian Cup quarterfinals in Brisbane on Jan. 22 in a game watched by a television audience of more than30 million.
Theres an instant respect for him already because of his record at the highest level and that will help him to mix straight in, Walker said. We saw the excitement at the airport when he arrived last week. Its not quite the circus of when Drogba and Anelka were here, but theres definitely a buzz in Shanghai about Tim.
The beginning of Cahills English Premier League career in 2004-05 at Everton overlapped with the end of Walkers Leicester City tenure where he spent four seasons. Walkers father, Mike, is also a former Everton manager.
Walker joined SIPG at the beginning of last year and Eriksson arrived for the start of this season from Guangzhou R&F. Shenhua are managed by former Bordeaux head coach Francis Gillot.
Didier Drogba arrived at Shanghai Shenhua in 2012 but stayed only eight months despite being paid massive wages.
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The two city rivals will face off on May 9 in a keenly anticipated local derby. Last season, Walkers SIPG, in fifth, finished above ninth placed Shenhua in the standings. Which is where the signing of Cahill comes in at a reported US$6 million per year.
Theyre desperate to move up the table so I think the signing of Cahill is a really good buy because he will score a lot of goals, Walker said. Theres one thing knowing how dangerous he is with his head and what hes about to do. Its another matter actually being able to stop it.
Cahill will get the experience of his first CSL away match on Friday when Shenhua travel to Guangzhou R&F, who finished third last season while Eriksson and Walkers men face strugglers Shanghai Shenxin.
Walker says he is now at peace with China life and could stay for several more years.
Shanghai is a great city. Im happy now because the work is good and everythings running a lot smoother than when I first arrived. But things are done differently to Europe or America, so its better to just accept it and go with the flow rather than fight it. Thats something that Tim, like everyone else here, has to learn.