An ode to City's 2015-16 season
A Dutchman on the touchline, a Dane between the sticks. Melburnians in the Terrace donning white and blue strips.
Mooy. Fornaroli. Novillo.
Catastrophe, heads in hands, then jubilation, beers spilled in the stands.
It's 2015/16 and win, loss or draw, the football is fun.
The football wasn’t just fun, though, it wasn’t just high-scoring: it was heart-stealing. The goals we scored that year bring a smile to the face without fail, and not always because of the play itself, but because of the chemistry between the beloved individuals that scored them.
Bruno Fornaroli in 2015/16 was a magician, seemingly in the literal sense of the word. The slipperiest of customers inside the penalty area, Fornaroli was impossible to contain for opposition defenders. He had a knack for embarrassing them by wriggling free against all odds and finishing even in the unlikeliest of situations. He later just about had a trademark on that irresistible curling goal into the top corner that we saw so often. At the snap of his fingers, the Prickly Pear could bend the ball into the top right of any net against any team in the league – and from every angle.
This tended to summarise his goalscoring antics overall; Fornaroli was so dangerous because he could hurt you from anywhere. He had all the tricks in his goalscoring repertoire: the chips, the benders, the solo runs, the first-time finishes. Bruno had it all.
To focus solely on his scoring ability would be to disregard so many of the other aspects that made him an incredible striker - his hold-up play for a man of his size was unbelievable - but it's a fault of footballing memory that we remember the goals above all else.
Adding to A-League defenders' nightmares was the other half of Fornaroli's package deal, Harry Novillo. Whilst his (still impressive) on-field contributions may have paled in comparison to his Uruguayan strike partner, Novillo had a genuine love for the club and an appreciation for the fans that made him a lasting cult hero.
On-field, you could start with his 10 goals and five assists from that unforgettable season, or his intelligent movement inside the box and interplay with his teammates. It's a disservice to him that these factors are instead getting overlooked for a mention of the reason that he was loved the most: how he made us feel. There may have been bigger superstars on the pitch than Novillo, but it was our #9 who epitomised just how fun this particular team was to watch. He was the dancer, the celebrator and always the bearer of the brightest smile after a goal. He may have been the focal point of 2015/16's fond memories less often than his more prolific teammates, but he feels just as much a part of them as any other.
Aaron Mooy was the puppeteer behind the pair, pulling the strings for the buildup of just about every single goal scored throughout the season. His influence was unmistakeable; when he had the ball, something was going to happen. His vision unrivalled, as if time and space were completely subject to his own manipulation. Mooy made the type of passes that reduced entire midfields and backlines to training cones - evidenced below by what endures as one of my all-time favourite goals, full-stop.
(On a side note, this video is absolutely worth the watch from start to finish. Mooy has as good a highlight reel from this one match as many players do from entire seasons.)
In 2015/16, Mooy was simply streets above his competition - he remains the most recent player to record double-digit goals and assists in a campaign - and fans were privileged to have been able to watch him flourish as he earned his end-of-season English move.
For all of City's attacking firepower, it's easy to forget just how defensively poor the team was, shipping an absolute truckload of goals at the other end and boasting the third-worst defensive record in the league. Games were ending 4-2 and 3-2, but it was fun as hell. It was a team that had you head in hands one moment, and beers all over the place hugging a stranger the next.
Hilariously, the man between the sticks throughout such a defensively-dire campaign was none other than former Premier League goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, one of the most highly-regarded players of our first decade. Keeping just seven clean sheets over the course of the season, it was ironic that his most memorable performance for City arrived in a game in which he conceded, starring in one of our all-time classic matches: the 2015 Christmas Derby.
2015/16 was the season of bit-part players like Corey Gameiro, Wade Dekker and Nick Fitzgerald, the rotating ugly ducklings in a front three alongside Fornaroli and Novillo. It was the season of Michael Zullo and Stefan Mauk, whose individual campaigns took their respective A-League careers to the next level. It was also the season in which fans saw the last of club stalwarts David Williams and Patrick Kisnorbo, players who have gone down as some of the best in our short history.
It was a season that should now serve as a reminder to Melbourne City fans, following four trophies in the years since, that there is always more to football - always more to this club - than success. Out of the ultimately fruitless campaign of 2015/16 came some of our most highly-regarded past players and some of our most beloved cult heroes. So too came some of fans' dearest memories in the AAMI Park stands.
It was 2015/16, after all, and win, loss, or draw, the football was fun.