Liberated from the grind of serial survival battles, Aaron Mooy’s shock move to China could add extra swagger to his game, according to Socceroos assistant Rene Meulensteen.
It’s understood the 30-year-old midfielder’s $6 million switch from Brighton and Hove Albion to Shanghai SIPG had more to do with chasing trophies than financial reward after three battling seasons in the Premier League.
He tasted last-gasp survival at Huddersfield, followed by relegation the following year and then flirted with the drop again at Brighton before a late surge propelled the Seagulls to a 15th-placed finish last season.
The arrival on the south coast of Adam Lallana from Liverpool threatened his Seagulls spot but it appears that battle fatigue may have been the ultimate exit trigger.
Mooy’s Shanghai surprise didn’t blindside Meulensteen as much as others, with the ex-Manchester United assistant revealing he’d had previous Chinese Super League offers.
“For me, Aaron has swapped a great league for one which is also extremely competitive and one which presents a whole new set of challenges,” he said.
“While he was playing against the very best in England, he wasn’t at a team you’d expect to see winning too many trophies.
“I know he’s had strong interest from China previously and it was probably in the back of his mind that he would go there at some stage of his career.
“He’s joined a big club where the pressure will be different from what he’s experienced in the last few years with some big battles at the wrong end of the table.
“I’m expecting him to be playing with a smile on his face.”
Mooy was beaming in midweek, as he began life alongside the star cast of Oscar, Hulk and Marko Arnautovic with a debut goal for the 2018 Chinese champions in a 2-1 CSL win over over Wuhan Zall.
Meulensteen expects Australia to benefit from the having a more carefree Mooy in camp when the Socceroos resume their coronavirus-curtailed FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign next March, assuming ongoing quarantine regulations don’t intervene.
“I think Aaron’s going to enjoy this new phase of his career, doing something a bit different,” he added.
“If you’re enjoying your football then you bring that with you into the national team camp.
“I’ve spoken to Aaron and I know he’s very happy with the decision to try something different.
“He feels he’s going at the right time to the right league and I’ve no doubt he’ll thrive there.
“Shanghai have their big names already but he’ll slot right in.
“He came off the bench to score on his debut with a lovely chipped finish over the keeper and that will do his confidence the world of good.
“When you hit the ground running like that, everything can fall into place.
“He brings a lot to the table with his range of passing, his calmness on the ball and his vision. I think SIPG have made a very smart signing.”
Shanghai are on top of Group B in the CSL, which has been split into two groups of eight, and are next in action against Chongqing Lifan tonight.