Back in late October in west Yorkshire, Huddersfield Town defeated Manchester United 2-1 to end a seven-game stretch without victory.
Town’s run was a dry one – they scored only one goal during it – and, pre-United, manager David Wagner said with some understatement: “This isn’t good.”
Having not beaten Manchester United since 1952, Huddersfield were expected to lose again. It was part of a general belief that around this time of the year the Terriers would be receiving our sympathy regarding their inevitable relegation. Then Aaron Mooy scored.
Suddenly United were on their way to a first loss of the season and in a corner of the buoyant stadium, a young boy’s good day was made even better by his finding of a £5 note.
The boy, 9, and his father looked around and asked if anyone had lost it. All said no, so the boy took it home. There he decided to write to Wagner and include the fiver – it was to be put towards a fund to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. Sensing this was unrealistic, the boy instead asked Wagner to give it to Mooy.
It was a show of appreciation. Mooy had scored the crucial opening goal and been the best player on the pitch. Mooy was impressed, asked to meet the boy and a week later he did.
Now that we have arrived at that time of the season when awards are debated and agreed, it is worth recalling the nine-year-old’s fiver. Here was an early declaration for the alternative player of the season and Aaron Mooy was the recipient. It was a choice that had credibility then – and today.
As things stand, Huddersfield are staying up. They do have a difficult on-paper run-in – Everton and Arsenal at home, Man City and Chelsea away – but they also have a six-point lead over third-bottom Southampton. It means Town could well have done enough to have a second consecutive season in a division they had not been in since 1972.
Recalling how Huddersfield got here, this would be as great an achievement as any in this season’s Premier League.
Last season the club were promoted despite having a bottom-six wage bill in the Championship. It was roughly one quarter of Aston Villa’s.
Plus, promotion came late, via the play-offs. While Brighton went up on April 17th and could begin planning the next morning, Huddersfield, who finished fifth, went all the way to penalty-kicks at Wembley against Reading on May 29th. That’s a six-week advantage to Brighton, physically, emotionally, logistically.
It is worth remembering, too, that the previous three clubs promoted through the Championship play-offs – Hull City, Norwich and QPR – went straight back down.
Mooy, 27, has been central to it all. His penalty at Wembley came with Reading leading 3-2. His made it 3-3. Town won 4-3.
As he was to be five months later against Manchester United, Mooy was named man of the match. But while he celebrated as a Huddersfield Town player, Mooy was not a Huddersfield Town player. He belonged to Manchester City. He was on loan.
It is a fact that will have irritated some of Huddersfield’s rivals and understandably. The loan system is a blight on the game, its use and success justifying the butter mountain of players stockpiled by clubs such as Chelsea.
For various reasons including economics, injuries, pragmatism, most clubs have taken from this, and Huddersfield did. But to theirs and Mooy’s credit what both parties did within a month of the play-off victory was turn Mooy’s transfer from temporary to permanent. It cost around £10m to do so, smashing Huddersfield’s record.
This is another part of the appeal of Mooy, that he and Huddersfield Town have done things right.
Theirs was a display of mutual commitment. They didn’t eke out another loan, see how things went. Mooy could have remained in City’s cosy cocoon until the end of his contract in 2019. Instead he signed up for three years at a club tipped for instant relegation.
This commitment has been shown on the pitch. Mooy has appeared in 32 of Town’s 34 Premier League games (as well as helping Australia qualify for the World Cup). There have been goals such as that against United and the winner at home to Newcastle.
So, no, Aaron Mooy may not be Kevin De Bruyne or Mo Salah, he may not be in contention for medals and titles. But as someone who travelled to Bolton Wanderers as a teenager, went to St. Mirren, returned to Australia, then made his way back to England and into the Premier League, Mooy knows what it’s like to be a long way down the grid.
But he has weaved his way through, just like Huddersfield Town. Well worth a fiver.
Iniesta ’s great career surely deserves one Ballon D’Or
If appreciation for Aaron Mooy is, in part, cumulative, then the same goes for Andres Iniesta. In terms of individual awards, players such as Iniesta and Sergio Ramos have lived in the shadow of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the past decade while often contributing just as much.
Iniesta – 34 next month – has won four Champions League and eight La Liga titles, as well as scoring the winner in a World Cup final. He has done so with grace. Everyone considers him a modern great.
But Iniesta has been second once and third once in the Balon D'Or awards. Given that he has just announced he is about to leave Barcelona, perhaps a nod of cumulative recognition should come his way.
Shelvey could bring something different to England’s World Cup.
Liam Brady said one of the reasons he admired Michel Platini – who replaced Brady at Juventus – was the way Platini addressed the ball.
“If you watch footage of Platini,” Brady said, “you see him walking with the ball – a lot. I used to say that when I was coaching the kids at Arsenal: ‘Walk with the ball, you’ve got more time to think.’”
It is a considerable stretch to compare Jonjo Shelvey to Platini or Brady but the seemingly maturing 26-year-old Newcastle United midfielder does occasionally walk – or pause – with the ball.
That alone sets Shelvey apart as an English midfielder in a time of relentless scurrying. Having paused, Shelvey has the ability to fire the ‘quarterback’ passes Brady saw from Platini.
As Newcastle have improved post-Christmas, Shelvey’s attributes have received greater prominence. There is now a debate as to whether Gareth Southgate should take Shelvey to the World Cup.
If a squad is about options, then Shelvey should go. Him finding Jamie Vardy from 40 yards might not be the close-passing template Southgate envisages from, say, Dier-Wilshere-Alli-Kane, but that might be no bad thing.