Global tactics paying big dividends for City traders
When Huddersfield paid a club record £8m to sign Aaron Mooy from Manchester City last summer, their chairman, Dean Hoyle, hailed the deal as a "no-brainer" while acknowledging that City had been canny to sign the player a year earlier even though the Australian had never got near Pep Guardiola's squad.
Mooy's story showcases not only his own qualities but also how recruitment is changing in English football, with City among the clubs assembling huge portfolios of players in much the same way as speculators build property empires.
After Mooy's debut in the Premier League - in Huddersfield's victory at Crystal Palace on the opening day of this season - the 26-year-old reflected on the fulfilment of a long-held ambition, tweeting a photograph of him leaving his home in Sydney at the age of 15 "to chase my dream". The novel thing about the road to the realisation of his dream is that it included a u-turn, as he returned to Australia for four years after rejection and injury. That is a path that was unthinkable not so long ago.
Craig Johnston, English football's most successful Australian, also arrived in Britain at 15 but when, in 1975, he was told by Middlesbrough's then manager, Jack Charlton, that he was not good enough to make it, he refused to go home, earning money by washing senior players' cars while training more or less in secret until Charlton had a rethink. Johnston, who went on to win five league titles and a European Cup with Liverpool, knew that if he went back to Australia, the chances of getting another crack at England were minute.
Mooy, on the other hand, was able to boomerang back thanks to what is effectively City's branch in Australia, the A-League club Melbourne City, which had been called Melbourne Heart until being taken over by City in January 2014. The Australian side became the third member of a global network known as the City Football Group (CFG).
Following the purchase in April of Uruguay's Club Atlético Torque and the acquisition in September of 44 per cent of the Catalan side Girona, CFG now includes five clubs beyond Manchester, the others being in New York and Yokohama.
It is not hard to foresee City adding an African side soon so that every continent is covered, enabling them to pursue their strategy of promoting their brand and procuring and nurturing talented players from far and wide with a view either to playing them or selling them for big profits. It all makes for a stark contrast with Huddersfield, who in September downgraded their local academy because they cannot compete with bigger clubs for the best young players.
"We are now seeing how our growing network of clubs can translate both into commercial opportunities for the group and development opportunities for players," wrote the chief executive, Ferran Soriano, in City's latest annual report before adding: "As an example, we saw young Australian Aaron Mooy, formerly a Melbourne City player, join Huddersfield Town for the club's record transfer fee."
What made that deal all the sweeter was that their Abu Dhabi owners never paid a fee for Mooy, not even when Melbourne signed him from Western Sydney Wanderers. Mooy was out of contract at Wanderers and, besides, A-League rules forbade the payment of transfer fees between domestic clubs.
For City, bringing Mooy to England was even more of a no-brainer than the one Huddersfield's chairman would later acclaim, even if City never had any intention of playing him. They knew they could sell him on. They loaned him to Huddersfield six days after his arrival from Australia and he went on to earn the Yorkshire club's player of the season award as they were promoted to the top flight for the first time in 45 years.
Mooy's first English destination had been Bolton, who had spotted him at Sydney's Westfield Sports High School, whose alumni include Harry Kewell. Mooy injured his knee shortly after arriving and was released at 18 when the club's then manager, Gary Megson, decided he was unlikely to evolve into a first-teamer. Mooy moved to St Mirren and although he never became a regular starter, he later cited it as a decisive period in his career, saying: "I think I've improved a lot since I was at St Mirren but St Mirren was the start for me. It was the first time I had really experienced proper football. I always remember how much I learned there . . . I was in the reserves at Bolton, but St Mirren was the first club I was at where winning and collecting points mattered hugely and I had to buy into that mentality."
St Mirren let him go two years later and Mooy elected to return home. Although he did well at Western Sydney, even there he was not a guaranteed starter, having to compete with two other players for a deep midfield spot as the team's playmaking rights were entrusted to Shinji Ono, the former Japan international and 2002 Asian player of the year who would end his career in Australia.
Mooy showed enough flickers of his ability, however, to earn a move to Melbourne, where he developed into a key player and one who looked ripe for a return to England.
Now Mooy is at the heart of the Huddersfield team built by David Wagner. Strong on the ball, genuinely two-footed and blessed with vision and precision, he is the conduit of most Terriers attacks and never shirks defensive duties in a team that made more tackles than any other Premier League side during the first 12 matches of the season. "He does not talk a lot on the pitch but he is a leader in the way he plays," says the Huddersfield goalkeeper Jonas Lössl.
Huddersfield have struggled to score this season because not enough of their players have been able to muster the quality that Mooy demonstrated when curling in a lovely winning goal against Newcastle United in August or when opening the scoring on the counter-attack in last month's victory over Manchester United. The trio of forwards that Wagner tends to deploy behind a lone striker have not managed even two goals between them, as Rajiv Van La Parra's solitary strike was a winner against West Brom, while Tom Ince and Elias Kachunga have yet to find the net this term.
Mooy's goal against José Mourinho's team came after he was shifted into one of the advanced midfield roles, with two holding midfielders behind him. Whether Wagner chooses to deploy him there or in his usual deeper role when Huddersfield face the power of Manchester City today, Mooy is likely to prove good value again.
- Huddersfield v Manchester City, Sky Sports, 4.0
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