Padraig Whelan Date: 25th September 2020 at 12:13pm
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It turns out that Bologna’s newest defender Aaron Hickey is indeed a real football player.

You could have been forgiven for thinking otherwise given that he arrived in Italy almost three weeks ago before disappearing from the public eye without a deal being confirmed.

That was due to various COVID-19 tests he had to pass and other red tape issues but he is now, at last, a Rossoblu player.

Bologna poked fun at the situation themselves with their rather amusing announcement video – likening Hickey to another of his homeland’s famous names: the Loch Ness Monster.

Unlike Nessie, the teenage left-back is very much a real phenomenon and fans of both Bologna and Serie A in general can be quite excited about the league’s newest addition.

Hickey is the fifth Scot to make the move to Italy’s top tier – following on from Denis Law, Joe Jordan, Graeme Souness and Liam Henderson, who is still in the peninsula, with Lecce in Serie B.

The reported £1.5 million fee that has been spent on him could prove to be a masterstroke as although his career to date has been brief, it is one that has been bustling with highlights and rapid development.

Such a glamorous move to Italy couldn’t have been on the forefront of Hickey’s thoughts just over two years ago when he returned to Hearts after a stint with Scottish champions Celtic in their youth system.

But a desire to make the move to the capital proved to be a masterstroke, despite the youngster initially hoping he would get a good run of games in their U18 side.

Incredibly, at the age of 16, he found himself starting in the 2019 Scottish Cup final against his former club and he put in an astonishingly accomplished display for a boy still a month away from turning 17.

In fact, many observers who watched the game that day still refer to Hickey as being the Jambos’ best player in an unfortunate 2-1 defeat.

Anyone worried about how he may settle or adapt to the major step up to life in Italy need only look at how he handled both that occasion and the pressure of fighting relegation the following season.

Ultimately, he didn’t do enough (not helped by disastrous circumstances off the field at the club and finally the COVID-19 pandemic) to prevent them going down but it certainly wasn’t down to his performances.

Hickey is an extremely accomplished defender who no attacker will relish coming up against it as his agility and determination in coming out on top in one-on-one situations.

While he still has some physical filling out to do, understandable given his youth, he is nonetheless a strong and very tough competitor who is also a big threat going forward.

He uses the ball well, is a fast and willing overlapping runner and can supply a dangerous cross or incisive pass in the final third when he gets there too – making the attacking side of his game his biggest strength as an archetypal modern full-back.

Although he only has one professional goal to his name so far, even that was a special one – a memorable deflected late winner in the fierce Edinburgh derby against Hibs.

That strike came via his right foot, which may not be his dominant side but don’t think of labelling it his ‘weak’ one.

“I’m more left-footed and I can strike the ball better with my left but I can play on my right without any problem,” he said in an interview with the Edinburgh Evening News last year.

“It’s always been pretty natural to me because I’ve used both feet from an early age. I don’t really think about it. I just hit the ball with both feet.

“When I was playing in the back garden, my dad was always telling me to use both feet and do keepie-ups with both feet. I think that’s probably helped me a lot. Not all players can use their weaker foot, but it’s a big thing to have.”

Mostly, he just exudes youthful confidence, which is why it is easier to bank on him making a success of this move and why the Veltri can be so pleased about the signing as Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Celtic all expressed serious interest in him this summer.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, he’ll also be learning his trade from one of the finest left-backs in the history of Serie A with Sinisa Mihajlovic in the dugout.

If he can teach Hickey how to take a free-kick, he really will have it all in his locker.