‘Baldy’ up there with the best
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.