After a disappointing end to the 2019-20 campaign for the Melbourne Victory, the club’s first matter of business as they head into the offseason is to appoint a new manager.
With around a week to go until the summer transfer window for English clubs slams shut, Socceroos star Aaron Mooy remains at relegated Huddersfield Town, seemingly no closer to a move back to the Premier League or elsewhere in Europe.
Though he has been linked to Watford and Southampton, concrete bids have yet to materialise and time is swiftly running out. Indeed, Mooy is likely to line up for the Terriers when they kick off their EFL Championship season against Derby County in a few days’ time.
It’s a surprising situation for the talented Aussie playmaker, whose vision, composure and dead-ball ability could undoubtedly add something to most Premier League squads outside of the big six.
So why has he been overlooked so far?
Diminished by relegation
Huddersfield were the feel-good story of 2017-18, the provincial Yorkshire club that had pulled off a shock promotion to compete in the Premier League for the first time. They didn’t really belong there, but against all expectations, they went toe-to-toe with the big boys and somehow avoided an immediate return to the second tier.
Aaron Mooy had been the catalyst for that rise and he looked at home in exalted company, pulling the midfield strings in some standout performances, not least when he inspired the Terriers to their first win over Manchester United in 65 years.
But memories in football are short. Huddersfield couldn’t repeat the trick last term, bombing out of the Premier League in last place. Coach David Wagner walked mid-season, and his replacement Jan Siewert managed just one win as the team tanked, only just avoiding the competition’s worst ever points total.
Mooy struggled to find top form but was far from the main culprit. He missed ten games over the critical Christmas and New Year period (and Australia’s Asian Cup campaign) with injury and Town’s fate was all but sealed by the time he returned.
However, like it or not, he is tarred by association with one of the Premier League’s most abject relegations, one which is still fresh in the memory to clubs hunting for new additions now.
Reluctance to sell
Adding to that is the high price tag on his head. The riches of the Premier League are such that Huddersfield do not need to cash in now – relegated clubs receive “parachute payments”, meaning they continue to earn a share of the enormous TV rights money pot for three seasons outside the top flight.
The Terriers’ chairman Phil Hodgkinson recently said that while all players have a price, “There would have to be some very big bids. We don’t need to sell anyone and I don’t see anyone matching our valuations at the moment.”
It’s easy to see why he’d want to hold on to Mooy, in particular. The EFL Championship is arguably the most competitive league in Europe, packed with traditionally big clubs marooned in the second tier and desperate to get back to the big time.
With a gruelling 46-game season ahead and Jan Siewert still a rookie coach in English football, Huddersfield are not among the promotion favourites with bookmakers. Keeping Aaron Mooy is the club’s best, maybe even only, chance of mounting a challenge.
Mooy’s ability to create goals from nothing, paired with the physicality to mix it in a notoriously tough league, is a rare combination. The Championship’s standout player in 2016-17, he was the difference between mid-table anonymity and promotion. Replacing him would be neither easy nor cheap.
Quiet and unflashy
The 28-year-old is known for being a man of few words. A self-confessed introvert, he prefers to avoid interviews and do his talking on the pitch. Ironically, it’s that quiet professionalism that may also be costing him a move elsewhere.
Danish midfielder Philip Billing has just completed a move from Huddersfield to Premier League Bournemouth after publicly falling out with Siewert and branding him “arrogant” in an interview. It’s hard to imagine Mooy openly agitating for a move, let alone bagging his coach in the press.
In many ways, he is a throwback – unfussy and unflashy, an admirable lack of arrogance or bombast. But in 2019, clubs care as much about keeping the Twitter mob happy as they do about signing the right players. For a player that would cost upwards of $40 million, signing the no-frills Aussie wouldn’t excite a Premier League fanbase or drive jersey sales.
Much could still change, with the frenetic last-minute deals of deadline day still to come. But for now, it looks increasingly like the Socceroos’ leading man will have to make do with second-tier football again, at least until the January transfer window.