The ‘Pasty Pirlo’: Ange Postecoglou’s first Aussie signing at Celtic

Despite the reported strong interest from a couple of English Championship clubs, Aaron Mooy has become Celtic’s latest summer signing, linking up with his former Australia coach Ange Postecoglou at Parkhead.

Mooy, who has been living in Glasgow for the last six months, recently terminated his contract with Shanghai Port following a mutual agreement between the player and the club. The former Brighton star spent the last two years in China where he played only 31 games out of 60 available, due to a myriad of reasons like family issues, multiple COVID isolations, and lack of match fitness.

While some may question the relevance of this signing, it seems like Postecoglou and his staff are very confident about the player and what he’ll bring to the side. The pair worked together for four years in the Australian national team, between 2013 and 2017, and it was precisely under Ange’s guidance that Mooy managed to establish himself as a starter and later on earn a move to Europe following his extraordinary domestic and international performances.

Aaron Mooy Australia Celtic FC Scotland Premiership Football Paradise
Art by Charbak Dipta

You only need to see some of Mooy’s comments from six years ago in order to realize how fond the player is of Postecoglou and his style of play. “He is a very good coach. The style that he wants to play is the way I like playing as well. I’m happy to be playing under him. He’s intimidating,” said Mooy back in 2016, when asked about the then-Socceroos manager.

And while Mooy might not be an actual floor-raising addition or someone who would come into the Celtic side and cement a regular spot in the XI, he should still be seen as an excellent addition to a squad that recently lost two very experienced midfielders in the faces of Tom Rogic (29) and Nir Bitton (30).

According to Celtic’s official site, Mooy has put pen to paper on a two-year contract, which was previously reported by various sources to be a one-plus-one deal. Regardless, it’s still something that further underlines the fact that the Socceroo is seen more as a seasoned depth option, rather than a long-term solution for The Hoops.

How does Aaron Mooy fit in?

Mooy has played in almost every position in midfield throughout his career. He started as a deep-lying playmaker in his early A-League days, with Western Sydney Wanderers, before moving further up the pitch at Melbourne City, where he thrived and even managed to set a record for the most assists in a single A-League Men’s season (20).

In England his versatility was utilized even more. At Brighton and Huddersfield he was used in all sorts of different positions, from a box-to-box number eight to an inverted right-winger.

In more recent times, the ‘Pasty Pirlo,’ as some fans like to call him, has been deployed in a deeper role as more of a make-shift ‘Regista’ and that’s where his future most likely lies.

It has been widely reported that the Scottish giants have been on the hunt for a defensive midfielder and someone who is capable of taking some burden off Callum McGregor’s shoulders. The new #13 could prove to be that man, while also being an option for the number eight spots. 

But although Mooy has performed admirably as a number six for the Socceroos in recent matches, he’s still far from being the perfect anchorman. 

As seen from the chart above, Mooy really excelled with his progressive actions (passes and runs) during his time in the Chinese Super League and ranked very highly compared to other midfielders when it comes to key passes, dribbling, and non-penalty goals.

The 31-year-old’s defensive stats, on the other hand, haven’t been great in the past two years. He has struggled both aerially and on the ground, due to his lack of height and slowly diminishing pace, which has limited his ability to cover ground. 

This highlights the fact that he isn’t the conventional type of destroyer number six and could have some issues in that role if he’s not given the needed protection and cover.

For example, in the last few games where he played as a lone six for Australia, they used inverted full-backs in order to give him more support in the middle of the pitch by squeezing the space that he had to cover to minimum. Celtic are no strangers to playing in a formation with inverted full-backs and that’s something that Mooy could benefit from. 

Another way of utilizing the Sydney-born to his fullest potential could be by playing him in a double-pivot alongside club captain McGregor, something that seems unlikely to happen on the domestic stage, as Ange usually likes to have two advanced number eights that are capable of pressing high and with intensity.

But the Champions League might be a different story. In the biggest European competition, Celtic are likely to face some of the best teams from the Old Continent and will need to sit deeper than they usually do. Having the luxury of being able to use the passing efficiency of a McGregor-Mooy double-six in these games would give Celtic the chance to compete with these massive teams by using the lack of possession to their advantage. 

Both midfielders have proven to be extremely press-resistant and capable of soaking up heavy pressure, which in turn could result in Celtic being really dangerous on the counter-attack, especially with players like Abada, Maeda, and Furuhashi making off-the-ball runs.

Seeing Mooy starting as an advanced eight or ten is also not out of question, but that’s likely to happen mostly against weaker Scottish sides, in games that Celtic dominates the majority of the ball and needs to break down low blocks.

The Australian has that natural sense of awareness that helps him find the right space to receive the ball between the lines and the vision and skill to execute a perfectly weighted final ball, even under pressure. He has also been a very prolific set-piece taker throughout his career which will certainly be another weapon that Ange will be looking forward to using in their title defence

Celtic scored a total of 16 goals from set-pieces during the 21/22 season (excluding penalties), with 11 of them coming from corners, four from indirect free-kicks, and one from a throw-in. With Mooy at the club, there would likely be even more emphasis on these types of plays, as the veteran playmaker will provide a new dimension with his crossing.

Overall, Celtic fans have a lot to be optimistic about, but they’ll have to give Mooy some time. The Bhoys’ league season starts on the final day of July and it’s looking highly unlikely that their new recruit will be fully fit for the opening game against Aberdeen.

The lack of actual match fitness would take its toll on any player, but once Mooy is back fit and firing, he’ll surely leave a mark, just like he has done at every club he’s been before. Recreating fellow countryman Tom Rogic’s illustrious Hoops career is highly unlikely, but at the age of 31 (will be 32 in September) the former Bolton youth product still has a lot to offer and could end up becoming a real cult hero at Parkhead, especially if he performs against a certain Glasgow-based rival.