‘Baldy’ up there with the best

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - Chris Dunlavy A FRESH TAKE ON FOOT­BALL

FRANZ BECK­EN­BAUER once re­marked that Zine­dine Zi­dane was more like a dancer than a foot­baller. Al­fredo di Ste­fano, the leg­endary Real Madrid striker, said the French mae­stro played as if he wore a silk glove on each foot.

“Sub­lime,” said Blues team­mate Mar­cel De­sailly. “At the top of his form, it was as if ev­ery­thing went into slow mo­tion all around him when­ever he had the ball.

“He made space where there was none. He found time when it seemed to have run out. It was as if he was play­ing one game, the rest of us another.”

Never were those ethe­real qual­i­ties bet­ter il­lus­trated than dur­ing the 2006 World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal vic­tory over Brazil, a per­for­mance that ap­proached per­fec­tion.

Rarely can to­tal de­struc­tion have looked so beau­ti­ful.

De­bat­ing ‘great­est’ play­ers is a game for chil­dren and count­down shows.

Even ac­count­ing for par­ti­san ri­valry, po­si­tional dif­fer­ences and myr­iad other vari­ables, gen­er­a­tion gaps ren­der such ar­gu­ments mer­it­less.

Pele may have been the best player who ever lived but I never saw him. Chris Wilder once told me how he’d likened one of his young Ox­ford play­ers to Bryan Rob­son. “I thought I was giv­ing him a com­pli­ment,” said Wilder. “But he just looked at me and said ‘Who’s Bryan Rob­son?’”

Great­ness is sub­jec­tive. Which is why, for all the po­tency of Ron­aldo and the mes­meric skills of Lionel Messi, Zi­dane re­mains the great­est player of my life­time.

That feath­ery touch, that com­bi­na­tion of power and grace, that ap­par­ent abil­ity to ex­ist in his own space-time con­tin­uum was, to me, foot­ball alchemy.

Such play­ers have al­ways cap­tured my heart. Matt Le Tissier, Jan Molby, Me­sut Ozil, Juan Ro­man Riquelme. Yet rarely does their ilk ever flour­ish be­low the elite.

Now, that has changed. Aaron Mooy isn’t Zine­dine Zi­dane. He isn’t even Jan Molby. But, fun­da­men­tally, Hud­der­s­field’s Aussie mid­fielder is cut from the same silken cloth.

Mooy, who is on a sea­son-long loan from Man­ches­ter City, doesn’t look like an ath­lete. Bald, slow and un­gainly, he moves like a pen­sioner with blis­tered feet. Give him the ball, though, and the re­sults are far more at­trac­tive.

Poise, vi­sion, a touch that turns ev­ery shanked pass into a pearler. Ev­ery time a Ter­ri­ers player looks up, Mooy is avail­able, seem­ingly pro­tected by a force field re­pelling any op­po­nent within five yards.

Against Leeds last week­end, he never wasted a ball. He scored a screamer. He should prob­a­bly have been sent off for a nasty chal­lenge on Liam Brid­cutt.

Yet one mo­ment res­onates. Mid­way through the first half, Mooy ap­proached a high bounc­ing ball, with a Leeds de­fender ca­reer­ing sav­agely to­wards his back­side.

One lan­guid flick of a right boot later, that player was on the turf, watch­ing Mooy ca­su­ally spin away to set up an at­tack.

The ma­noeu­vre echoed Zi­dane’s great­est skill. Like a ten­nis player re­ceiv­ing serve, the French­man read minute clues in body lan­guage, knew in­tu­itively how sub­tle move­ments could bam­boo­zle or throw op­po­nents off bal­ance. Some­times, an al­most im­per­cep­ti­ble shimmy of hip or shoul­der was all it took. Mooy, too, has mas­tered this de­cep­tive art.

Yet more re­mark­able than any­thing he’s done on the pitch is the fact that the 25year-old has al­ready been re­leased by Bolton and St Mir­ren. Were they mad?

This is a bloke who, last sea­son, notched 17 goals and 20 as­sists for Mel­bourne City. Who is be­ing “closely mon­i­tored” by Pep Guardi­ola. Who is cur­rently the best player in the Cham­pi­onship, de­spite be­ing de­ployed much deeper than his favoured No.10 po­si­tion.

For all the tac­ti­cal smarts of David Wag­ner and the fit­ness of his play­ers, Mooy is the sin­gle big­gest rea­son Hud­der­s­field are top of the ta­ble.

And, while a place in City’s glit­ter­ing mid­field may be a stretch, it is in­con­ceiv­able that a tech­ni­cian as gifted as Mooy will be a Cham­pi­onship player af­ter this sea­son. Catch him while you can.

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