Players like Aaron Mooy shouldn’t be at teams like Huddersfield. It was a lazy statement we heard often while he was with the Terriers, and while it was nonsense for a long time, it ended up being true.
After a deal that was spun as a financial masterstroke by Manchester City, he proved himself first in the Championship, then the Premier League. When Huddersfield dropped back down, in no small part due to games lost in his absence, Mooy could hardly be expected to stay.
He moved to Brighton, and showed once again how good he was. On more than one occasion, he was the best player on the park for the Seagulls last year. This year, then, it seems peculiar he should have moved on. Stranger still that he should have gone to Shanghai SIPG.
A move to Shanghai SIPG
That strangeness is apparent from all sides, though there is a seam of logic running through it. For Brighton, allowing such a player to leave would seem to leave them weak in the centre of midfield; however, with Adam Lallana and Alexis MacAllister set to be available in that role, the Australian might well have found himself relegated out of the first team, or at least rotated.
Mooy’s best games for Brighton had come with the Seagulls playing with three men in central defence, though the return of Ben White from Leeds gave Graham Potter the option of returning to four at the back – though he more often sticks with the three of last year.
In that context, at least, having spent his career at Huddersfield putting the sword into Leeds, most notably with a spectacular winner in a West Yorkshire derby at Elland Road, the Whites may have indirectly brought about his departure to China.
The CSL had long been on his radar
The chance of moving to a team containing a host of Brazilian forwards must have been one to jump at for the Socceroo, whose prompting, probing passes are being fed upon by the likes of Oscar and Hulk during his time in Shanghai.
Those South American stars illustrate one of the other advantages of playing in China, something that can’t be overlooked in this move with Mooy, who has a family and, at the age of 29, is unlikely to get another big money move in his career. The CSL had long been on his radar, and it came out after the deal that he’d ensured clauses in his contracts both with Huddersfield and Brighton that there was a buyout should a Chinese club come knocking.
Shanghai, too, had been involved in the Mooy story previously – they were a potential destination when he left Yorkshire, but the lure of proving himself again in the Premier League was too strong.
It is clear if you watch regularly that the CSL is not at the same level as English football, but if you look hard enough through the football schedules at the moment, you’ll see the other reason Mooy might have thought this was the right time to move.
Shanghai, following the completion of the Chinese season, decamped along with league-mates Beijing FC, Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua, to the Asian Champions League, being completed in Qatar.
This is where their decision to bring in Mooy is even more interesting. While he has many fine attributes, namely his ball control and passing range, the Australian is not a stellar name and not a hotshot goalscorer. Indeed, amongst overseas players brought into Chinese sides, he is positively outside the norm.
An inch-perfect cross
The effect of the stability of Mooy offers has already proved apparent. 1-0 down against his hometown side in their first game, the Sydney native produced an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Li Shenglong to equalise; Li scored the winner before Mooy was taken off.
It was 1-1 against South Korea’s Jeonbuk at half time before a tranche of substitutes, including Mooy, Oscar, and Li, that swung the game in Shanghai’s favour. Another replacement, Hulk, grabbed the winner from the penalty spot.
In the first of the double header against gung-ho Yokohama F Marinos, the game was goalless on the hour when Mooy was taken off – eventually the Japanese giants won out. The opposite was true in the second, as Mooy’s introduction saw Shanghai rise above Yokohama to practically ensure qualification for both sides, who both had a match against already eliminated Sydney to come.
Jeonbuk and Yokohama faced off in the early game, and when the Japanese side emerged victorious, it took both themselves and Shanghai into the knockout stages. As such, the 4-0 shellacking against Sydney didn’t matter and Mooy was through.
There are three matches before a possible meeting with Persepolis, who won the Eastern half of the draw earlier in the year, in a match to decide the club champions of all Asia.
Is it Shanghai’s time?
China has produced winners previously, Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande claiming the title twice, and Liaoning FC grabbing the silverware in the early incarnations of the competition.
Never has it been to Shanghai, however, and with J-League clubs flexing their muscles recently, it is time for China to strike back.
To that end, the match with Japan’s Vissel Kobe, Iniesta and all, is a vital one for Mooy, for Shanghai and for China. A victory would likely bring about a tie against flamboyant Yokohama F Marinos, and another chance to thumb the nose at the J-League.
This is the last chance saloon for Shanghai, who finished fourth after the playoff round of the Chinese Super League, and will miss out on continental competition next season – the Champions League starts again, without them, in January.
What will Mooy do then, with his illustrious team-mates kicking his heels? A loan move back to Europe perhaps? Time will tell. One thing is clear. Mooy is a fine footballer, playing the game his way. Wherever he does go, he will be cherished.