Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. The Catalan, regarded as one of the world’s best coaches (if not the), and the English titan which, ever since being acquired by Abu Dhabi United Group, has had no trouble spending millions into luring some of the biggest names in soccer. A match made in heaven.
So, as the transfer window approached, fans were eager to know exactly what stars would dress as sky blues. And there they came – England’s most wanted centre-back, John Stones; Brazilian promise, Gabriel Jesús; and former Barcelona players, Claudio Bravo and Nolito, among others.
And… Aaron Mooy.
Fans were startled by the Australian’s signing, who was a few days later sent on loan to Huddersfield Town. But who is Aaron Mooy exactly?
The English destination
Aaron Mooy, born in 1990, grew up in Carlingford, a small suburb located on Sydney’s northwest. And although its two main soccer teams, Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers, were still not around, Aaron was already keen for soccer – while attending primary school, he would wake up an hour earlier (around 5 A.M.) so he could watch Aussie exports Craig Moore and Tony Vidmar shine at Rangers F.C.
After a year of coaching at local New South Wales Institute of Sport, his career would officially kick off at 16 years old after being spotted by Chris Sulley and moving to England in order to sign for Bolton Wanderers. However, after four seasons being a youth team regular and never reaching the first squad, Mooy would follow his former idols and join former Scottish Premier League club St. Mirren.
Mooy got to a good start, making his league debut on the same day he signed his contract and becoming immovable from the midfield. But during his second season a back injury cut short his progress, and soon after, he would go back to where it all began – Sydney. And it’s precisely there that Mooy finally took flight.
There’s no place like home
As one of the three inaugural signings of newly-founded Western Sydney Wanderers, the pressure was on his shoulders. And he worked through it – as a creative offensive midfielder, Mooy helped lead the team to two successive A-League finals, securing the first of them. Collective trophies mark one of Mooy’s handicaps, having only collected that first championship.
His successful run in Sydney, with 54 matches in two seasons, led him toward two new horizons: the Australian National team, a dream he had constantly proclaimed, as well as signing for rival Melbourne City FC. And after being a regular player in previous seasons, Mooy became the most important player on the turf for both teams.
Case in point, Mooy was named Melbourne City Player of the Year on each of his two seasons, and was also included in the A-League Team of the Season. What’s more, Mooy, criticized for years for not making a difference in terms of goalscoring, went on to net 17 on his last season – three more than the 14 he had scored on his previous five seasons. And his subtle passing was engraved into A-League history, as his 20 assists represented an all-time record.
These staggering numbers were the main reason Pep Guardiola chose him and ordered his signing (an easy transaction, as Melbourne City and Manchester City are both parts of the City Football Group). That, along with his tremendous National Team influence – Mooy is regarded as Australia’s most talented player, and one of their biggest hopes of attending their fourth consecutive World Cup, having started in the Socceroos’ past 10 matches.
Mooy has shined as a creative offensive midfielder, while also being used more defensively, as his team’s anchor. It’s at the field’s centre where he feels most comfortable, as Mooy isn’t particularly a fast player, but rather one of the calculated and precise moves.
Fellow Aussie players described him as skinny, easily getting pushed off the ball. A trait he fixed after his move to Bolton Wanderers, bulking up, now requiring a couple of players to take the possession off him. And it’s not only about physique – analysts have compared his footwork to that of former Ballon d’Or and Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.
Indeed, Mooy knows exactly when to let the ball loose and when to give a languid flick of the boot to leave his rival on the turf, a skill mastered by reading minute clues in body language. And his field intuition is also superb, as his teammates can confirm – every time one of them looks up, Mooy is poised to be available, ready to take the ball.
And once he gets it? That’s where Mooy becomes differential, as his vision and excellent touch tend to aim directly at his teammates’ feet. His assist record, as well as his passing completion rate (averaging more than 80% per game), stand as witnesses.
His goalscoring improvement steams from one aspect – Mooy has worked toward becoming a dead-ball specialist, which he has. Socceroos’ designated taker has scored most of his goals from the long-distance, while also being the launching pad for headers. And each season he seems to progress further in this regard.
His biggest handicap is his already acknowledged slowness summed to his null defensive work, which exposes his teams during transitions. As a static marker, however, Mooy is slightly better, as he has shown to be able to guard his position and stop the rival’s advances.
A move back to Manchester City seems unlikely. On the one hand, City has plenty of offensive midfielders, with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne being one the finest in Europe. If absent, the likes of Gündoan, Sané or Fernandinho can adapt their position. And on the other, Mooy’s lack of defensive work goes against Guardiola’s philosophy, which requires every player to apply constant pressure over the opponent (even publicly criticizing his best forward, Agüero, for not giving enough).
However, there are two silver linings. There are Mooy’s unparalleled work ethic and humility, being a player highly committed to his cause. Also, his amazing season start – in less than two months, Mooy has become an integral part of Huddersfield Town, which sails smoothly as at the top of the Championship, with only eight matches played but looking good for a Premier League promotion.