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Hearts Starlet Off to Bologna

Promise of first-team football sees youngster opt for Saputo’s Italian team over Bayern, Celtic and Aston Villa

Hearts’ Aaron Hickey (18) will pen a four year deal with Bologna this week.

Not many UK youngsters would turn down the opportunity to join European Champions, Bayern Munich.

But 18-year-old Scot Aaron Hickey is the exception to the rule. We covered Bologna’s interest in the player a few weeks ago (see; Could Bologna Move for Scottish Youngster Be Positive News for The Impact?), and now a four-year deal is set to be signed and sealed this week.

Hickey was also being tailed by Aston Villa of the English Premier League and his boyhood favourites Celtic, of whom former Hearts manager Craig Levein has said, “... tried to sign him half a dozen times.”

A key factor in the 18-year-old’s decision was the promise of immediate inclusion in the first-team squad. He would have been part of Bayern’s second team which plays in Germany’s third-tier and in the u23’s at Aston Villa, a league Montreal Impact’s Luis Binks was happy to leave behind.

Celtic certainly had allure for the shy youngster but again despite 33 appearances for Hearts in the SPL, a spot in the first-team was not have been guaranteed.

Hickey made his bow in Scottish top-level football at the age of 16 playing in the last two league games of 2018/19. The following week was the Scottish Cup Final against Celtic at Hampden Park. Former Scotland national team boss Craig Levein, then manager of Hearts, retained the youngster and he became the youngest in history to ever play in a Scottish Cup final.

Aaron Hickey Departs For Italy After Signing For Bologna
Hickey and dad at Glasgow Airport earlier this month as he departs for Bologna.
Photo by Mark Scates/SNS Group via Getty Images

What sort of player is he?

Versatile. Although he has spent much of his fledgling career at left-back, Hickey offers flexible options and still young, could be moulded into various different roles.

Levein suggests, “He’s got really good defensive qualities but I don’t know if he’ll end up being a full-back, he might end up going back into midfield.

“He could be a fantastic holding midfielder with his great awareness of danger and his ability to get out of tight situations with the ball at his feet.”

Hearts captain Steven Naismith has also been impressed...

“His understanding of the game subconsciously without thinking about it, is very good.

“All the small, quick decisions that need to be made on a pitch, Aaron predominantly makes them right and on top of that he’s got a good attitude.”

Current Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson, meanwhile, says Hickey’s on-field maturity shines through. “He’s like a 24- or 25-year-old in an 18-year-old’s body.”

Ego? No! Quiet and Shy

Many, maybe even most, young footballers have ego’s as big as their talent. Possibly not the case with Hickey however.

“I don’t know because he never speaks,” Levein says. “He just smiles. He’s a bit shy but it’s helped him going into big matches because he never seems to get flustered about anything.”

“He’s quiet and reserved and he just keeps his head down and gets on with it,” Naismith concurs.

Hibs vs Hearts (Ladbrokes Premiership)
Hickey in the heat of the Edinburgh derby challenging Hibs’ Stephane Omeonga at Ester Road in March this year. Hickey’s ‘Jam Tarts’ won 3-1.
Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group via Getty Images

Joining Bologna

Hickey is excited at the prospect of joining Bologna. He visited their facilities, as well as Bayern’s, liked what he saw, and made the most significant decision of his early professional life, citing “family feel” as one of the reasons for choosing the Serie A club.

Much like potential future team-mate Luis Binks, Hickey has opted for career development at the sharp-end; first-team football rather than developing in lower or age-restricted competition. Levein feels he’s opted for the right path.

“He’s had a taste of first-team football and it’s extremely difficult for young players to maintain their enthusiasm when not playing for the first team. I would always encourage a player to try to stay in that environment.”

“I spent the last three or four months trying to get him to sign a new contract with Hearts. It was extremely difficult because he doesn’t say anything,” added Levein.