Aaron Hickey – The Defensive Conundrum by Ross Hall
Name: Aaron Hickey
Position(s): Fullback/Wingback (L/R)
Aaron Hickey is one of many promising young Scottish fullbacks making there way in the game at the moment. Through this we will look at his journey from Heart of Midlothian to Brentford and what has led to Brentford spending 16 million pounds to bring him back to the UK from Serie A.
Hickey was a product of the Hearts youth system from the age of 10 and spent most of his developmental years in their system before moving from Edinburgh to Glasgow to join Celtics youth academy. After a few years at Celtic, he returned to Hearts and by 2019 he was making his first team debut against Aberdeen at the age of 16 where he went on to make 33 first team appearances.
After his first full season at Hearts he was gaining a great deal of attention from across Europe and went to spend time looking at the developmental system at Bayern Munich before eventually going on to sign for Bologna in a deal worth around 1.8 million pounds.
2 years on from his move to Serie A he again found himself with no shortage of admirers that included the legend that is Paolo Maldini making checks on him. With a few teams still considering their options Brentford swooped in with a 16 million pound offer and he became a member of a very young and talented Bees squad.
Internationally he has also made his way into the Scotland setup and has accumulated 7 caps to date.
What makes Aaron Hickey?
Aaron Hickey is a defensive talent who offers a great deal of flexibility because he can play in multiple roles and is comfortable using either foot. It was said by coaches who had trained him at an early age that they didn’t know what position he would end up playing in because he was so versatile. Craig Levein who managed him at Hearts was quoted as saying he thought Hickey might end up playing in midfield as he had done in his academy days at both Hearts and Celtic.
The young Scot is a player built in the mould of what many would describe as a typically Scottish defender. He is tough in the tackle and plays with a real passion. He also has a lot of ability that maybe isn’t so commonly associated with Scottish defenders, he shows a real calm and composed nature on the ball and his ability with both feet is a skill that very few fullbacks have. His development both in terms of ability and physically has come on leaps and bounds from when he first got his chance in the Hearts first team. At 16 he looked every bit the boy who would struggle to maintain a strong level of intensity to now being the player who you can confidently look at for a good solid 90 minutes. He also has a maturity that is well beyond his years.
The move to Brentford from Bologna is still very much in the early stages as Hickey as only played 9 games since he joined in the summer. What we have seen has been a good insight into why Brentford spent the money they did. He has covered both the right back, right wingback and right midfield roles for Brentford which is kind of a change from his Bologna and Hearts days where he tended to play on the left side.
Hickey’s strengths lay in his defensive work on the pitch and his ability to make good passes to the more creative players to initiate quick transitions. His engine also allows him to keep up a good level of intensity from beginning to end. In many ways he could be classed as a throwback, a fullback who is a very good defender first and foremost. His defensive duels won stand at around the 58% mark over the last season and a half. His success rate is in part due to him positioning himself well and his ability and his comfort with both feet. That allows him to get tackles in as players attack on the inside or outside. Many fullbacks tie themselves in knots if a player attacks their weak side where as Hickey can switch between stances with ease and then either get his foot in, or position his body to allow him to take the ball from his opponent. I don’t imagine many opposition reports would look at him and see a defensive liability for wingers to exploit, but at the same time I don’t think the reports would say much about his attacking play which take us on to his weaknesses.
Hickey does have elements of his game that need considerable work and they are mainly when he is on the front foot. His final ball and ability when running with the ball aren’t as strong as some of his fellow Scots like Andy Roberston (Liverpool), Kieron Tierney (Arsenal) or Nathan Patterson (Everton) although it must be noted that both at his time at Bologna and at Brentford he doesn’t seem to be under any instruction to be putting as many crosses in as the 3 others mentioned. When he does cross the ball he tends to do his best when crossing from the left side with his right foot and drifting balls from around 18 to 20 yards in towards the 6 yard line. His left footed crossing from the left and right tends to be a bit more erratic and is far less of a threat. One area he did excel in an attacking sense during his final season in Serie A was with his goal tally. He had never really looked much of a threat in Scottish football with only 1 goal for Hearts, but he managed to get 5 for Bologna last season most of which came from getting to a loose ball in and around the edge of the area and striking shots hard and low.
This season has been mixed so far and his form fits with Brentford’s form in general…. patchy. Hickey’s versatility should be viewed as a strength, but it is a trait that can also be a weakness for a player because some managers use it to often and the player’s progress can be stunted with the constant change of instructions and focus from game to game. Sometimes it is better for a player to get a good run of games is a set position so they can really focus on specific elements of their development.
I am of the opinion that Hickey will eventually move into a deeper central role as his ability with both feet and the way he deals with defensive situations make him perfect for that role and I feel the team would gain far more from his versatility centrally than they do by having him attached to either side of the pitch. Centrally you would get the calm and controlled player who can take the ball and move it on to the more creative players and a player who will cover over for attacking fullbacks / wingbacks when it’s required so you can maintain a good balance in terms of shape to cover for any counter attacks by the opposition.
In terms of his International prospects, he has his 7 caps so far and great scope for many more to come. Nearly all of his caps have come in the right-back / wingback slot where his direct competition would be the more attack minded Nathan Patterson or the Celtic fullback Anthony Ralston, but again his versatility means that he offers great value in the International setup and Steve Clarke will appreciate what Hickey can offer to the structure the national team play within.
Overall Aaron Hickey is a manager’s dream, a defensive Dennis The Menace type player who attackers won’t enjoy facing because he is tough and he does enjoy winning his duels. When you see him, you know you can put him in a variety of roles and get the good old 7 out of 10 from him and that his effort will never be in doubt so he ticks the reliability box. His development has been outstanding and I applaud his bravery in taking the move from Scotland to Italy so early on in his career. It’s a choice that has seen him quickly go from the spritely young Jambo who had a lot of guts and gusto to a very cultured player who shows professionalism and maturity. The lessons he learned in Serie A will likely be the cornerstones of what will make him as a player. I do hope to see Hickey be given a role that he can make his, instead of being moved around the houses to accommodate others. My vote would be for the holding midfield role but no matter what role it is I’m confident he will become a fine player for Brentford and any other team who he might move on to play for as the years go by.
Talent Overview – Aaron Hickey
Strong with both feet
Defensive positioning and duels
Composure both with and without the ball
Areas To Improve:
Final ball / Crossing
Attacking movements with and without the ball
My thanks for reading and to FTS.
Ross Hall – (The Talent Overview)