Australia has had a rare look inside the Chinese Super League where former Aussie football star Tim Cahill has taken Shanghai by storm.
Our most celebrated player signed to Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua in February for a rumoured $10 million contract but says he moved for fans, not money.
"They're very protective of what they own and the way they take care of their players is like their own sons — so for me it's like opening a door that probably won't be open too much," Cahill said.
"I don't think people realise how focused China is on football how determined is china to be the best and what are they doing."
The 35-year-old is one of Australia’s best-ever players. He's made 83 appearances for the Socceroos and scored 39 goals. His brace against Japan at the 2006 FIFA World Cup led Australia to the knockout stage of the showpiece tournament for the first time.
But Cahill said he had to leave Australia to make his name in the sport.
"I left because I never would have made it in Australia 100 percent.
"I never would have made the national team because it just wasn't that setup, you know, the smaller player, technical player wasn't used as much back then."
After joining English club Millwall as a junior in 1997, the tenacious midfielder and forward became one of English Premier League club Everton’s favourite sons, playing 226 games and scoring 56 goals before joining Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls in 2012.
He said the move to Shanghai has been an enriching experience for his family and they are immersing themselves in the culture.
"[People say] 'you only signed in China for the money', well I've turned down double from the Middle East."
"I didn't choose China because I want to play in front of 50,000 people every week. I want to have the feeling of belonging to fans and to a top club."
It was a move by Cahill that put a spotlight on the secretive new force in global football - the China Super League.
President Xi Jinping is a soccer fanatic and in order to see China host and win a World Cup the league is scooping up experienced players from the world’s best teams.
It is a multi-million dollar push to put China on the football map and Cahill says the fanbase is beyond anything he experienced playing in the English Premier League or in the US.
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"I want to be involved in development and I want to be involved in being a bridge from Australia to China," he says.
More than 6000 schools in China have a dedicated soccer teacher now and that number will rise to 20,000 by 2017.
"You'll see the footage, every game they sing my name constantly throughout the whole game … the passion that they've invested in me is because I think they know I want to do well."
The Chinese economic boom was something Tim had his eyes on when he moved not only his game but his business aspirations to Shanghai.
Cahill is also making a splash in the business world — after forming a friendship with Giorgio Armani he started a clothing label of his own, which he now plans to launch in the mammoth Chinese market.
"I love it. I love fashion. My wife does too but I think I can match her for that."
He’ll be 38 by the next world cup, in Russia in 2018, and Cahill would like to see major changes in the governing body FIFA, where top officials have been accused of widespread corruption.
"There shouldn't just be one dictator for such a big game there should be four different nationalities from different continents that share the responsibility to make a conservative decision on big things."
Tim Cahill's clothing line is now in Glue Stores across Australia, check out the line at www.cahillplus.com
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