This week sees the re-emergence of our “SFG Player of the Week” feature which aims to highlight those across Africa and Asia who have performed over and above but sometimes under the radar in the previous week’s matches. This week our man Martin Lowe looks back on the start of Australia’s A-League Final Series with full focus on Melbourne City’s creative presence Aaron Mooy.
Arriving home from their historic 2010 World Cup victory, the Spanish national side were given the reception of their lives headed by the country’s Prime Minister. In his victory speech summing up the team’s achievements, one section stood out: that attributed to their goal-scoring hero of the final Andres Iniesta, insisting he was the greatest of role models, for those who are short, pale and balding that they could achieve anything they wanted. Yes, a backhanded compliment but also a jibe at those who had sometimes overlooked or underestimated Iniesta for a more aesthetically pleasing player.
Fast forward five years and Australia are now starting to eulogise over their very own unassuming creative genius. While I’m not comparing his actual talent to one of Spain’s greatest ever footballers, I am instead his presence on the team. Aaron Mooy has illustrated everything needed for a somewhat mediocre side such as Melbourne City, who struggle in most areas across the pitch against the upper echelons of the A-League. His ability to break up play in one movement, before having the option to surge into space or play a defence splitting pass illustrates his considerable impact on the midfield. Alongside him former West Bromwich Albion midfielder Robert Koren has often been a spectator at Mooy’s driving force despite the Slovenian moving to Australia as Melbourne’s sole overseas non-salary capped player.
While stats don’t always illustrate the full extent of a match or even a season, Mooy’s achievements in this area reiterate his dominance for City. A midfielder who tops charts in terms of goals scored, assists attributed, chances created, passes completed, and tackles won shows his flexibility in all areas of the pitch which he recently confirmed. “I’ve scored more goals, had more assists, created more chances, had more tackles as well, I think I’m more rounded now. When you’re a midfielder you need to do a bit of everything.”
His mouldable game has worked well under coach John van’t Schip in terms of the counter attacking style they’ve adopted. At the beginning of the campaign, Mooy worked in harmony with the pace and talent of Spanish World Cup winner David Villa and Irishman Damien Duff. Over the last few months since Villa moved to the US and Duff picked up an injury, he’s had to reinvent his game to the giant frame of target man Josh Kennedy, brought in from Nagoya of Japan. The route to glory predictably has started to become regimented in the amount of high crosses into the opposing box. However, Mooy who for the most part is situated centrally, has racked up the highest amount of crosses in the league and, crucially, the most successful attempts.
This weekend’s Elimination Final appearance in New Zealand against Wellington Phoenix was a prime example of both Melbourne’s evolved philosophy and Mooy’s countless abilities. If you’d woken up late for the match, on the face of it you wouldn’t have missed much. City sat back in a frustrating opening half, goading the home side to break them down. As pressure mounted on Phoenix, it was time for Melbourne to execute their plan. Mooy by this point had been breaking up play well, orchestrating from deep but most pertinently remained calm in possession when others were starting to feel the pressure.
In the second half however he fully showed his attacking game merits. Breaking up play in his own half he released but continued to support play, forcing the opener as he received the ball back in the box before striking low for Kennedy to prod home. Tens of minutes later he was at it again, another break in which he was involved finally was crashed into the net with aid from Phoenix keeper Moss and the post. Within a blink, a match that had looked dull and uninspiring had come to light, in both cases due to simplicity. That’s the real joy of Aaron Mooy, he rarely risks possession, or that’s the impression he gives anyway. His laid back approach makes you sit back and believe a raking ball of some forty yards was the “simple” ball, isn’t that the true test of effortless talent?
As with Iniesta, his short, slight frame coupled with his pale balding impression may lead many to right him off, however for his ability with the ball at his feet. Unfortunately for Australia, his talent doesn’t stretch anywhere near that of the Spanish wizard at Barcelona. Mooy recently returned to the Socceroos set-up but left fans frustrated on the face of it due to his nerves on the occasion. With World Cup qualifiers coming up on the horizon he’ll be looking to make a better impression if granted the opportunity.
In all likeliness he will, as he offers something completely different to the Asian Cup winners central midfield, being the ability to pass. While his progression with the national team is an aim for the coming months, of more pressing intent is City’s semi-final derby clash against regular season victors Melbourne Victory. Another well executed tactical plan with another dominant display from Mooy and we could be ready for the quiet assassin to take the finals by storm.