AS A young teenager hoping to make the grade more than 10,000 miles from home, Aaron Mooy went head-to-head with Manchester United and Paul Pogba in youth team combat.
Later, he would pop along to Old Trafford to take in the sights and sounds of top level football as a fan. Among these trips from his then adopted home of Bolton was a Champions League semi-final against Arsenal that made a huge impression on the Australian.
Today, seven-and-a-half years on from watching Sir Alex Ferguson’s men take a giant step towards being crowned the champions of Europe by beating the Gunners, Mooy finally gets a chance to experience for himself what tackling one of world football’s biggest clubs is like as the Red Devils return to Huddersfield after a 46 year absence.
“Manchester United are a massive club,” the 27-year-old told The Yorkshire Post. “The chance to play teams like this is why we were so happy to get in the Premier League, why it was such a dream.
“It wasn’t just Manchester United we were looking forward to playing, it was everyone – Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal – in the biggest competition in the world. But this is a special game.”
The return of United to Huddersfield has been a long time coming. So long, in fact, that their last visit to the club’s old Leeds Road home came eight days before David Wagner was born.
Manchester United are a massive club and a good team but we have got to go into the game believing in ourselves and hope to get a good result.Huddersfield Town’s Aaron Mooy
Town went into that October 9, 1971, meeting on something of a high, Ian Greaves’s side having won four of their last five league games. United, though, were simply too strong and triumphed 3-0 thanks to goals from George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton.
What few in the 33,458 crowd realised at the time was they were witnessing the end of an era, as the ‘Holy Trinity’ would never score in the same game for the Red Devils again. Three years later, United had been dumped into the Second Division.
Mooy saw the statue of Best, Law and Charlton that has stood outside Old Trafford since 2008 when, as a junior with Bolton Wanderers, he took the chance to watch Ferguson’s side in the flesh so knows all about the size of the club visiting the John Smith’s Stadium today.
“I liked to watch Manchester United when I was at Bolton,” said the midfielder who flew from his home in Sydney to Bolton as a 15-year-old in an attempt to realise his dream of becoming a footballer.
“I went to Old Trafford a few times and it was always special. I remember a Champions League semi-final once against Arsenal (in 2009). John O’Shea scored and they won 1-0.
“Being there (for the first leg) was a great experience. The football was at a totally different level to what I was used to, especially compared to back home.
“At a game, you feel the difference and see with your own eyes just how good these players are. It was an eye-opener for me.
“The crowd and the stadium was huge, and the standard of the players so high, that it made a big impression. As a kid, that was what I aspired to be and this was an insight.
“I went with my agent at the time and another player. A great experience. When you are young, that is the level you aspire to. Now, I have the chance to play against Manchester United.”
Mooy’s brush with the Old Trafford club as a teenager was not just confined to watching from the stands. In Bolton colours, he also came up against United and a very young future world record signing.
“We had a few games against their youth team and, once, Pogba was in the team I faced,” he recalls. “He was very young then, but unfortunately he scored.”
There won’t be a repeat of Pogba getting on the scoresheet today due to the £89m signing from Juventus being injured. Nevertheless, Town will be in for another searching examination of their Premier League credentials against a side who, along with Mooy’s former club City, have set the pace in the early weeks of the season.
As Crystal Palace proved last week, however, by beating champions Chelsea to register their first points of the season, no team in the top flight can be totally written off.
“It doesn’t happen every week but you do see them (shock results) in this league,” added Mooy. “That is the thing in football. Manchester United are a massive club and a good team but we have got to go into the game believing in ourselves and hope to get a good result.”
Today, of course, will pit Mooy against the bitter rivals of the club who gave him a second chance in English football after failing to make the grade with Bolton as a youngster. He insists, though, that there is no extra motivation on his part other than helping Huddersfield to some much needed points.
“I joined City but then came straight to Huddersfield (on loan) so I didn’t have much time to get to know Manchester football or be around the town much,” added the midfielder, who joined the Terriers permanently for £8m last summer.
“I didn’t get to feel the atmosphere or the tension much. Obviously, I had seen the derby games on TV and how fierce they were, but apart from that I didn’t get much of a taste.
“Anyway, I am a Huddersfield player now so that is all that matters. To win would be amazing. But we just have to focus on our jobs.
“They have started well, and so have Manchester City. Great squads at both clubs and their performances have been very good, I am sure they will be at the top come the end of the season.”