Daniel Arzani's move to Manchester City caps whirlwind seven months for Australia starlet
Things have happened very quickly for Daniel Arzani. At the start of this year, he was virtually unknown even in Australia. Now, just a few months later, he is considered one of the brightest prospects Australia has produced in years, made a positive impression as the youngest player at the World Cup in Russia, signed for Manchester City and prepares to start an exciting adventure on loan at Celtic.
At the current rate of progress, the sky is the limit for the Iranian-born prodigy -- yet everything is bound to be much tougher for Arzani from now on.
Thus far, Arzani has just enjoyed himself and played with a smile on his face. That is what he did as a small kid on the streets of Khorramabad in western Iran, and that style didn't change when he moved to Sydney with his family at the age of seven. Arzani is a carefree and fearless artist of football -- his game is all about receiving the ball and trying to produce the most imaginative move in order to outfox the opposition.
Slim and rather lightweight, he doesn't stand a chance in physical battles against rough defenders. He uses speed of thought and wit instead. Those qualities are highly rated in Australia and, ironically as far as Celtic fans are concerned, it was the former Rangers legend Tony Vidmar who helped Arzani to progress at the AIS Centre of Excellence. He taught a 15-year-old kid of remarkable skills and gave him the necessary freedom to express himself.
"We don't have anything like him as a player. One stat he had this year was the amount of take-ons he had when he went past players was double the next nearest player," Vidmar said after Arzani was sensationally included in Australia's World Cup squad by Bert van Marwijk.
"He just has this belief and confidence that every time he gets the ball he can get past a player -- and he's proved that he can do it."
That truly was a bold choice by the veteran Dutch coach, because he admitted himself that he knew absolutely nothing about the youngster before he took the A-League by storm.
It all started in the beginning of January when Melbourne City were having a very hard time against the lowly Wellington Phoenix. Trailing 1-0 at the beginning of the second half, coach Warren Joyce sent Arzani on, and the winger duly supplied two assists to Ross McCormack to win the game 2-1.
Just three days later, Joyce put Arzani into the starting lineup for the first time, and the team won 2-0 at Perth Glory.
It was impossible to bench the magnificent midfielder again. While Arzani usually didn't have what it takes to play the full 90 minutes, his overall contribution had been sensational. Bare stats that credit him with two goals and three assists don't even come close to telling the whole story. He chosen at the best young player of the 2017-18 season, and Melbourne City were delighted to finish third.
Even then, Arzani didn't really expect to go to Russia.
"The most important thing is to spend time with my family. I haven't seen them for a while," he said about his summer plans.
Van Marwijk had other ideas, and the Australian FA also decided to act quickly, knowing that Iran coach Carlos Queiroz was following the youngster's progress very closely. It would have been extremely risky to leave open an opportunity to represent the country of his birth.
However, the most important factor was Arzani's pure ability. He was arguably the only player available to the Socceroos who could make an impact as a substitute, and that is what Van Marwijk was looking for.
"He is a young player who has a lot to learn, but he can make a difference. I like players who can make a difference," the Dutchman said in early May.
Eventually, Arzani made the biggest difference in the last friendly before the World Cup. He entered the field with 17 minutes to go against Hungary in Budapest, and immediately had a shot on goal that went in thanks to Denes Dibusz's error between the posts. Trent Sainsbury then scored an own goal, but Arzani won the game in injury time. His magnificent through ball to Jackson Irvine led to an own goal at the other end, and Australia arrived in Russia with high hopes of making it out of the group.
Sadly for Van Marwijk and Arzani, his substitute performances against France, Denmark and Peru didn't produce any goals, but the inventive attacker caught the eye nevertheless. He was the youngest player at the tournament at the age of 19 years and five months, and the only one born in 1999, but that fact helped to put additional spotlight on him. His smile and willingness to put opponents under constant pressure make Arzani a very enjoyable player to watch.
His career decisions have proved to be successful so far as well. Arzani joined Melbourne City in 2016 hoping to move on to Manchester City at some stage, and now his wishes have come true much sooner than expected. Working under Brendan Rodgers at Celtic could help him in developing tactical awareness, though it remains to be seen whether Arzani has what it takes to become a legitimate Premier League star in the future.
Aaron Mooy has already shown it is possible. He made the same move from Melbourne to Manchester two years ago and was immediately loaned out to Championship side Huddersfield, starring in their promotion to the Premier League before making a permanent move. Mooy made 36 appearances for Huddersfield in the Premier League last season, scoring four goals.
Considering his achievements so far, it would be unwise to bet against him.