At Bologna, Aaron Hickey’s become the lethal LB of Arsenal’s dreams
Bologna is home to one of the oldest universities in the world and it has proved an educational city for Aaron Hickey.
Few Scottish footballers have experienced sojourns in Italy, but the Glasweigan youngster clearly felt some wanderlust.
And his move abroad has proved successful. Hickey has impressed in Serie A, establishing himself as Bologna’s first-choice left-back and attracting attention from some of Europe’s top clubs.
Had he stayed in Scotland, at Hearts, his reputation may not have increased so rapidly.
This was, though, still a brave decision from Hickey. When Bologna came calling in the summer of 2020, the pandemic was still at its peak, and leaving home for a new country as a teenager was a daunting prospect.
But he settled in quickly, proving himself on the pitch. “It’s been really good here,” he said in a recent interview with Sky Sports.
“Who knows, I might want to have a new challenge, but I probably wouldn’t mind coming here every day to be honest.”
A new challenge could well be on the horizon for Hickey, who has been heavily linked of late with a move to Arsenal.
Arsenal are, according to the latest rumours, leading the race to secure the 19-year-old’s signature, reaching an agreement with Bologna over a fee.
Inevitably, comparisons have been made with Kieran Tierney, who has excelled at Arsenal since making the switch from Celtic in 2019.
Hickey’s path to the Emirates would be different, although Tierney, and indeed Andy Robertson at Liverpool, are obvious aspirational figures for a young Scottish left-back.
He would, initially, be Tierney’s understudy at Arsenal, but a move there would be a significant step forward for a player not yet out of his teenage years.
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“It’s really nice to see other Scottish players go somewhere and do really well at their clubs so it makes you want to go and do that as well,” Hickey told Sky Sports.
“I met a few of them from the Scotland camp and got in some good chats with some of them and it was dead nice and you get a feel of what they are doing.”
AC Milan and Newcastle have also been linked with a move for Hickey, who has scored five goals in Serie A from his position on the left of Bologna’s back five this season.
Clearly, his precociousness hasn’t gone unrecognised. Already he has managed two caps for Scotland, despite the stiff competition.
“Aaron is mature enough beyond his years and his move to Italy tells you that,” said former Rangers and Everton striker Steven Naismith, now a coach for Hearts.
“He is happy to go and have that experience and wants to do well.
“I spoke to him a lot at the time when he was leaving Hearts because I know how hard it can be with so many different options and offers and so many different things that might happen.
“He had to make the right choice and I think he did, his career has progressed and progressed again. He is still very young and still got a lot to learn and develop as a player but he is a good footballer.”
There are, of course, areas in which the youngster can improve, notably in his creative play. Just one assist from left wing-back suggests his crossing could be worked on.
A fee of €25million has been mentioned and Arsenal will want to make sure such an outlay is worth it.
But Hickey’s potential is obvious. His five goals in Serie A make him the highest-scoring defender under the age of 23 in Europe’s big five leagues.
He is forward-thinking, composed on the ball, an efficient dribbler, and a cool finisher when arriving in the box.
His most recent goal, in a 2-2 draw with Udinese last month, was taken clinically, drilled low into the bottom corner and in off the post from the left of the penalty area.
Hickey’s first goal for Bologna was a memorable one, too, a low, powerful shot from the edge of the box that meant he became only the fourth Scotsman to net in the Italian top flight.
Aaron Hickey is a Serie A goalscorer! 👏
🏴 The 19-year-old Scot scores his first goal for Italian side Bologna!
He becomes just the fourth Scottish player to net in Italy's top flight. pic.twitter.com/wxjNrKuqLr
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) September 21, 2021
Plenty more followed and by now he is one of the club’s prized assets. Genuine interest from the Premier League has followed, but it doesn’t seem to have fazed him.
“My goal this season was to play more games than last season,” he said last month. “I achieved that aim and that’s something I am very happy about.
“The important thing is to keep my head down and keep improving with a coaching staff that are helping me a lot. Now I think about my future only here in Bologna.
“The way we play helps me a lot compared to what I was used to in Scotland. But personally, I think I still need to improve both in the attacking and defensive parts of my game.”
It could be that Hickey is soon furthering his development in north London and turning out in front of 60,000 fans at the Emirates.
For now, though, he is enjoying the weather and ragu in Emilia-Romagna.