At the end of the season, you see most clubs give opportunities to youngsters, most of the time it is a small chance to make a memory of playing first-team football for the club they have grown up at. That was the same for Hearts who at the end of the 18/19 season gave a plethora of youngster’s sub appearances and the chance to show their worth.
One of those was left back Aaron Hickey, a top prospect at the club whom mummers of a new star talent had been round the walls of the Edinburgh club for some time. Hickey would impress and manager Robbie Neilson immediately brought him for the Scottish Cup final against Celtic at the end of the season. At 16, Hickey was in the starting lineup for the showcase cup tie against Celtic.
He would face up to that season’s Player of the Year, the Hoops’ right-winger James Forrest. Hickey was superb in his side’s 2-1 defeat; James Forrest had a quiet game and it seemed like the youngster had put the best player in Scotland that year in his back pocket. Already, the noise was made that Hearts had a wonderkid on their hands and he wouldn’t be there long.
So much so, Hickey was pushed straight in as a full-time first-team player for the next campaign. At no point did he look out of place or new, and his drive and energy to get forward was immediately noticeable; he was good on the ball and calm in possession, the raw ability of something special evident.
It was also his steely determination and desire to be as good as possible that allowed him to be dogged defensively; he was consistently brilliant in what would be a poor campaign for Hearts as it ended in relegation. However, that was no fault of Hickey, who impressed at Tynecastle Park and would likely not be playing second-division football the following season.
Whilst many thought he would head south to the Premier League or join one of the Old Firm, Hickey rejected interest from various teams, including Bayern Munich, to join Bologna in Serie A due to the Italian club’s family feel and their intention to use him in their first-team.
It was a bold move. He’s spoken since about the struggles he faced off the pitch, leaving Edinburgh and having to contend with the language, but on the pitch, those struggles were not so evident. Yes, he needed to settle but in his first campaign, Hickey managed 11 Serie A appearances.
The Bologna faithful took to him immediately and his nickname (derived from a very Scottish-themed announcement video when he signed) was Braveheart. Pretty apt as it does take immense bravery to leave home at 18 for a foreign land and set up shop.
Hickey would settle and shine in 2021/22 after an impressive debut campaign, scoring five goals, including a 20-yard cracker against Sassuolo. In a country that welcomes marauding fullbacks with open arms, Hickey was becoming a supreme talent.
The number 3 was superb on the ball and his confidence was sky-high from manager Sinisa Mihajlovic, who even played him in centre midfield against Juventus due to his ability to stay controlled and calm in possession.
After failing to provide a goal contribution in 11 games in 2020/21, Hickey’s five goals and one assist in 2021/22 would sit him in the top metrics for full backs across the top five leagues, whilst his pass completion as well as running stats were also in the top bracket.
It’s not often a 20-year-old gets a goodbye rollout from the club he’s leaving, but that is what happened yesterday as he completed his 18 million pound move to Brentford.
He joins the ranks of young Scottish full-backs in the Premier League such as Calvin Ramsay and Nathan Patterson, but for me, Hickey is the most exciting — he has all the attributes to become a key figure on the right side of defense.
Bologna bought him for 1.5 million and sold him for 18 million — but don’t be surprised if Brentford’s eventual profit on Hickey a few years down the line ends up surpassing that of the Rossoblù’s.
By: Fraser Fletcher / @FrazFletcher
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Getty Images