Scunthorpe United v Exeter City: Mozika's pulling the strings, and shirts, to lift Iron
He sleeps a lot and, when he first came to England, kicked anything that moved. But you cannot underestimate the impact Damien Mozika has had on Scunthorpe United’s fortunes. The Telegraph’s CHRIS SUMPTER spoke to manager Alan Knill about how the Frenchman has matured into one of the Iron’s most consistent performers.
He is the unflappable Frenchman – a master craftsman who has the desire and technique to control a game.
Not that you may have noticed.
For a man who claimed 'when I am on the pitch I want people to see only me' when he joined Scunthorpe United in August, match-winning contributions from Damien Mozika appear noticeably low.
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There have been only a couple of goals. Only marginally more goal-saving tackles. But when it comes to doing the simple things, Mozika has had the measure of most opposition midfields.
So much so that in a season littered with ifs, buts and maybes, the 24-year-old is fast-providing arguably the biggest conundrum: How would the Iron have fared had they kept the preeminent Parisian fit all season?
Mozika doesn't just pull the strings. He'll pull shirts and push opponents off the ball if it benefits his own game, because above all, according to Alan Knill, the Iron manager, he is a winner.
Look at results and it is hard to disagree.
It is no coincidence that with Mozika sidelined with an ankle ligament injury, picked up innocuously in training, United were at their lowest ebb over Christmas and New Year, when they became acquainted with the relegation zone.
Since he returned to the starting line-up, for the home game with Wycombe Wanderers a month ago, Scunthorpe are unbeaten in eight matches, a run they, and Mozika, will be looking to extend today against Exeter City.
"When you need him to win the ball he wins it, when you want him to keep the ball he keeps it and he doesn't try to do anything he can't. He's a really effective player," says Knill, bluntly.
"He's really underrated football wise, in that you only really see him when it comes to headers and tackles.
"But the other side of his game, his use of the ball, is really improving.
"We have stats every week about passes completed and Damo's are right up there. He doesn't really risk possession of the ball, which is what you want.
"He quietly goes about his business, but, I've got to say, he's very effective at it."
Born in Corbeil-Essonnes, a commune in the southern suburbs of France's capital city, Mozika came to England from French First Division side AS Nancy because he wanted to play in the Premier League. He still does.
So far, he has only gone from Ligue 1 to League One, but the path to the top flight, where compatriots like Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit have starred, is ongoing.
It has also contained many twists and turns.
After starting out at Chester City, where he first caught the eye of Knill, even though, in the words of the United boss 'he lacked discipline', Mozika has played in Iran and at Bury, where he went on trial in the summer of 2010.
A fortnight ago, he returned to Gigg Lane, where he was subjected to boos and taunts.
Typically though, they did not shake the former Shaker, who went about his business with little noise, putting in a man-of-the-match display.
There have been many more of those. Though the nature of his game is about stopping potential headlines, not writing them.
That has not always been the case – 'I've seen him lose it a couple of times,' Knill interjects, albeit in between the eulogies.
But with a bit of direction, and the odd risky decision, Mozika has become one of the Iron's most accomplished midfielders.
"When he came in on trial at Bury, we were touch and go about whether to sign him," Knill recalls.
"I remember he kicked anything that moved. I looked at him and thought that every game was going to end in a sending off.
"We went and played a local team and it really was Damo's last chance for us to say yes or no to signing him.
"I said to him before the game to keep calm, but with one of his first tackles he went flying in.
"I was in two minds about what to do afterwards, but then I thought if I could temper that aggression, I knew there was a player and an athlete in there.
"He ended up being outstanding at Bury.
"We'd lost Stephen Dawson, who was the captain and talisman of the team, but Damo stepped straight into his shoes and quietly went about his job.
"He only needed one chance to get in the team and once he was in, you couldn't possibly leave him out.
"Don't get me wrong, if you allow him, he'll be all over the pitch because he can run.
"But he understands his roles and responsibilities."
For a manager to whom being competitive is the mantra, Mozika is an ideal commodity.
Knill says he sleeps a lot and has, in the past, created a bit of friction amongst his team-mates.
But only, says the Iron boss, because every day he craves success.
"When we got him in at Bury, we had Stephen Schumacher and Peter Sweeney," he adds.
"They used to come off the training ground annoyed with Damo, because even when he's not near you there's an arm or a finger getting you.
"He wants to win – and I like that.
"He's no different in training to what he is when he's playing.
"As a footballer he has developed so much more. He keeps possession and moves the ball around the pitch economically, but simply, which is usually the hardest thing.
"We missed him when he was injured."