Norwich City report card: Maximum effort from star man Aarons
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
In our latest Norwich City report card reviewing the 2018-19 Championship season, MICHAEL BAILEY looks at a man who went from potential to the EFL’s best: Max Aarons.
Ivo Pinto didn't go anywhere last summer. Ben Marshall arrived as a £1.5m signing and frontline right-back option from Wolves. As did Felix Passlack, on a season's loan from Borussia Dortmund.
In fact Marshall started the first four Championship games of the season, as Norwich City looked to correct one of their weaknesses from Daniel Farke's first campaign in charge: creativity from their full-backs.
It's fair to say if anyone inside Carrow Road had predicted back in June the immediate impact a certain Max Aarons would have on the season, they could have saved themselves a few quid.
'Immediate' is probably the key word there, because those at the club knew they had a decent player on their hands.
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A new contract arrived last summer after a supremely consistent season of progress, from City's Under-18s to a key cog in the Under-23s - in the same year Aarons turned just 18.
Aarons would earn another new deal just a few months later.
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The key date for the City and Luton academy product arrived one August night in Wales. A Carabao Cup win at Premier League Cardiff - at left-back - in which he scored the third goal. It was his first senior away game.
The fact Aarons thought Farke had made a mistake when he put him in the starting XI side of his next pre-match training session, the day before City's East Anglian derby trip to Ipswich Town, says a lot about Aarons' mind set at that point. Yet from that league debut at Portman Road to the final moments at Villa Park, his performance level barely altered. Huge amounts of ground covered, superb one on one defensive work, dynamic breaks forward plus an end product and maturity that belied where he was in his career.
Aarons missed the first five Championship games. He started all the remaining 41. He missed only 25 second-half minutes, all in the 1-0 September win over Wigan. And he has lost just three games in his senior career.
In a staggering City season, Aarons was a staggering story.
Two more goals followed - an academy showcase of a win at home to Rotherham as Todd Cantwell joined in with the scoring and creating, and then a crucial late equaliser at Bristol City. But given the pre-season aims for improvement, it will be the six assists from full-back that really please Farke.
The first was as good as any: a swift counter in City's second-half smash of Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. The last came in the 4-0 home win over Queens Park Rangers - the game that with hindsight, ultimately took Norwich City beyond Leeds and back to the Premier League.
Away from simply being caught up the pitch if City lost the ball in transition - that was simply a hazard of the job last season - there was the occasional defensive lapse. But in truth, the eye-catching thing was how few they were and how little they cost the Canaries.
So many young players break through, and then plateau in their performance level as their progress catches up with them - a purely natural state of affairs and only a temporary situation left behind by increasing experience, patience and improvement.
Yet it's hard to think of many young defenders that have ridden out their initial burst on to the scene for so long, so consistently. More impressive than that, was Aarons telling me it was far from a coincidence: "That was one of my aims, to just be as consistent as I can," said Aarons, following the 1-1 draw at Wigan.
"Obviously being a younger player, coming into this league and not really knowing what it's about, I like to think I've dealt with the consistency well and I'm really happy with how it's going."
Sporting director Stuart Webber made a similar point recently -that City's young players could play without fear because they didn't actually know what to fear. Certainly the Norwich squad from the previous two seasons appeared to know far too much about what it was coming up against and how much it could go wrong.
It will be the same situation for Aarons heading into the Premier League, of course. You can't fear what you don't know.
Equally, Aarons has every element required to turn that on its head and give the top flight someone new to think about.
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