As shipping containers carrying Leeds United’s new home shirts plunged into the sea somewhere off the coast of Singapore, Adidas’ garish tie-dye alternative number was the only replica jersey fans could get their hands on at the start of the season. “The explosion of pulse yellow blended with a dark blue for the shirt is a modern take on some of our iconic yellow kits from the 70s and the colour coordinated club crest sits proudly on the chest,” read the accompanying statement; the marketing team working overtime.
With supporters desperate to get their hands on the latest clubwear, fans flocked in their numbers to the shops and printing requests for one player’s name and number soared. As around 37,000 cram into Elland Road once a fortnight, Aaronson 7 shirts can be spotted on every row of every stand: an easy spot perhaps given the explosion of pulse yellow blended with dark blue.
Few could blame them at the time, except for parting with around £65 for a jersey reminiscent of blue cheese. The American was hot property. The Whites were extremely keen to bring in RB Salzburg star Brenden Aaronson in January 2022, but an unwillingness from the Austrians to do business during their Champions League campaign meant all parties had to wait until the summer for a deal to materialise. Then 21, the New Jersey-born attacking midfielder was linking back up with previous boss Jesse Marsch, and early indications were that the American looked every part of his £25m price tag.
A stunning through-ball with the outside of his foot earned an assist in a pre-season outing against the recently relegated Cagliari of Italy. Aaronson was on hand to force Wolves’ Rayan Aït-Nouri to divert Patrick Bamford’s low cross into his own net in the first game of the year and when Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea visited West Yorkshire, the USMNT international continued his rich vein of form.
As goalkeeper Édouard Mendy tried to be too clever with the ball at his feet, Aaronson pounced to dispossess the Senegal stopper and stabbed home his first Premier League goal. A clear illustration of how he fit in Marsch’s chaotic and relentless pressing system, the former Philadelphia Union youngster was quickly becoming an energetic nuisance for opposition defenders.
Brenden Aaronson with the trivela assist 🤩
— B/R Football (@brfootball) July 31, 2022
Since then, Aaronson has recorded just three assists and the strike against Chelsea remains his only Premier League goal, bringing his goal contributions tally to just four in 30 matches. By comparison, Italian youngster Wilfried Gnonto has been involved in five goals in 18 matches, having cost over £20m less than his teammate.
There is no denying the American’s talent, and seven goals in 30 national team caps at 22 is an encouraging start to his international career. Aaronson’s knack for finding space and his first touch is exceptional, as is his ability to drop a shoulder or turn on a sixpence, if occasionally predictable. Like a lot of young players finding their feet in English football, his decision making can be frustrating and needs improvement, but his versatility and pace is what allows those opportunities to arise in the first instance.
The biggest aspect for the midfielder’s game to develop is undoubtedly his physicality on the ball. At times, Aaronson looks a boy trapped in a man’s game, the younger brother tagging along to five-a-side to make up the numbers who, for all his quick feet and intelligent movement, is only ever one nudge away from being left in a heap on the floor.
Only completing 1.39 successful take-ons per ninety on average, Aaronson ranks in the lower half of comparable attacking midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues, according to FBREF. When running at defenders, the American loses the ball 47.9% of the time and only wins just over two fouls per game: a startingly low figure given the number of times the 22-year-old hits the deck.
Whilst Aaronson has struggled in his first season in West Yorkshire to live up to his hefty price tag, there are signs and promise within his game. Should the Whites avoid the drop, the midfielder needs a summer and preseason spent solely in the gym at Thorp Arch to become more competitive in duels on the pitch.
If Javi Gracia’s side are unable to retain their Premier League status, the club and Aaronson would have a difficult and expensive decision to make. A young player with four years remaining on his deal is advantageous, yet one completely unsuited to the combative nature of the Championship and unlikely to recoup anywhere near the initial finances spent on him.
By: Jack Douglas / @JDouglasSport
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images