Last week Aaron Mooy became the third Australian player to transfer to Manchester City within a year. But rather than it being greeted as a breakthrough era for Australian football, the City Football Group overseeing the transfer activity are instead ensuring top talent remains firmly in their grasp and returning back to their sister club in Melbourne. Martin Lowe ponders whether Mooy will be the first of the outgoing Australians to prosper at Manchester City, or whether he will follow a similar path and return back to Australia within his contracted three years?
The idea of buy to loan is hardly a new one. The transfer sense of jumping in early on young raw talent for a small price, stockpile a few said talents as they mature at several loan destinations before D-Day in their early twenties when it’s clearer to assess whether they will make the grade at the parent club. It’s a process the mega European clubs have been peddling for some years now.
The appearance of English colossus Manchester City on the Australian market however has dissected a increasingly common practice into an even shadier pursuit, headlined this summer with the purchase of the finest A-League domestic product around in Aaron Mooy from their subsidiary club Melbourne City.
Manchester City’s acquisition of Melbourne back in January 2014 under the umbrella of the City Football Group (CFG) (accompanied by their American expansion club New York City) hasn’t exactly gone down well in Australia. Unlike their fresh MLS start up project, CFG were taking over an already existent club in Melbourne Heart, thus a change of name was quickly affixed to the brand, colours of the uniform were adjusted and from the 17/18 season another strip paint job will be introduced, mirroring City’s global profile of “City” blue shirts and white shorts.
Then came the transfer activity. Big names were speculated, but in the end only one initially came, being David Villa on a short term stopover which lasted four games before he joined up with his primary employers New York City in the New Year. From the word go, Melbourne City knew now they were not only second, but third class “Cityzens” behind their English owners and their fellow subsidiary Stateside.
While this has stuck in many a throat of the Melbourne Heart-now-City following, CFG went on to alienate the rest of the league also, with their purchase of Anthony Caceres from Central Coast Mariners this last January. As quickly as he signed to move to Manchester, he was back in Australia out on loan, to you guessed it; Melbourne City.
Outside Australia there’s nothing too strange in that, but within the domestic game transfer payments are not permitted between clubs in the league. Caceres’ $300,000 move to Manchester City and back out on loan to Melbourne didn’t contravene any laws, but you can see why the Australian footballing public are starting to find fault with CFG’s dirty tactics to supply their Melbourne outpost with the best local talent.
The other peculiar area of this transfer is Caceres’ age and career prospects. At 23, you would expect him to be hitting the sort of level which he will base his career on, which without punting it too bluntly is well below Manchester City’s requirements for their lofty Premier League and Champions League ambitions. It’s hard to imagine a time where Caceres would even be in with a shout of being considered for a recall. He’s not a young talent who Pepe Guardiola is waiting on to improve by any means, instead he’s a talent who’s reaching maturity without even getting a national call up to date. His future in Manchester again was questioned this week, as his loan in Melbourne was extended for another season.
A second transfer followed a similar course. Luke Brattan, another good but by no means sensational midfielder, signed for Manchester City from Brisbane Roar last summer, before being quickly moved out on loan to English Championship side Bolton Wanderers. An appearance-less few months at the Trotters ended prematurely, and as we roll round to another transfer window, you again won’t be surprised to hear Brattan is heading back to Australia on loan, with Melbourne City.
CFG’s third Australian jewel in the crown came apparent this last week with the transfer of Australian international Aaron Mooy from Melbourne to Manchester. The writing had been on the wall for some time for Melbourne, who had come to terms with their talisman flying the nest to Europe, after a fantastic couple of seasons in the new CFG colours.
While many speculated about where his potential suitors would come from, no one really thought a club of Manchester City’s reckoning would ever be interested in his playing services. I for one am a big Aaron Mooy fan, I even generously compared him to Andreas Iniesta last year, but can I really see Mooy competing for a place in a Premier League winning side? Not at all.
So the question is, why bother signing him? And on another note, where does this leave Mooy? Rather perplexingly there has been no formal indication from the English club that Mooy has even signed. Apart from the fond farewells from Melbourne, the only “proof” came via the player’s official Instagram page of him delightfully beaming at signing his new contract but with no official CFG presence in sight.
Days later we have now heard confirmation that Mooy is indeed to be loaned out, as was the case with Luke Brattan last year, down a tier to the English Championship with Huddersfield Town. One way or another we know Mooy’s destination for next term, which given the initial quotes coming from manager David Wagner, looks to be a club that can play into the midfielder’s hands. Mooy’s ability alone which is a class above that of Brattan’s should ensure he at least sees some competitive action this year.
Mooy is a special talent, a player though who given the wrong move could end up down the line like many who have moved to Europe either prematurely or in the wrong direction, before returning to the scrap heap back in their home nation before they know it. His eye for a pass is up there with the very best in Asia, with the Omar Abdulrahmans of this world, his set piece prowess is arguably better and his flexibility to play a variety of roles in the centre of midfield makes him a very useful signing for Huddersfield.
However, a lack of bite, average pace and arguably with tougher peers in his position, you could see him getting lost in a side that didn’t tread the same tactical path as him. With such a make-or-break decision on his hands, of moving back to Europe (he’s already tried and failed to make the grade in England [Bolton] & Scotland [St Mirren] as a youngster), why risk it all on having your future decided by a loan?
I don’t blame the player at all, instead I blame the two clubs involved and the CFG for leading the player down the same avenue two players before him haven’t benefited from. Unlike the typical buy to loan mentality, so lambasted in its use by fellow English Premier League outfit Chelsea FC, who regularly have 10s of players out on loan in Europe in the off chance one comes off, Manchester City in this case must know themselves that Aaron Mooy, already 25 years of age, won’t improve enough to be recalled.
Let’s be optimistic for a moment and predict a successful season for Mooy, which under the right system is more than possible at Huddersfield. What then? Do City sell to Huddersfield or a lower half Premier League club, because it would take a lot for him to return to play for his employer’s full time? If so, was it worth it? If you believe the good-hearted CFG press releases maybe so.
“Aaron is an extremely talented player who possesses the attributes we hope to foster and encourage within the City Football Group.” Manchester City’s managing director of football services Brian Marwood, said of Mooy. “With the unique model CFG provides, Aaron’s move to Manchester allows us to further expose him to a high standard of opportunities to ensure his professional growth.”
That sound bite is very noble – focusing on the player’s development ahead of the club’s interests – but are these same prospects afforded to the likes of Caceres and Brattan? We are unlikely to hear their side of the story, whether their individual cases allow them to go on loan elsewhere in Europe or Asia. Is the whole ploy of henpecking top Australian talent a ruse to push Melbourne City to the top of the A-League, diminishing the resources of their rivals? You would hope not.
It might be disingenuous of me to write off Mooy’s hopes of ever playing for Manchester City, and within 12 months’ time we could be eulogising his triumphant return to Manchester ahead of a new domestic season within Guardiola’s Champions League thinking. But after watching the last year roll out for the likes of Caceres and Brattan, it’s much more foreseeable to predict Mooy’s return to Australia with Melbourne sooner rather than later.