From the Handbook: Max Aarons
This profile was originally published in the Scouted Football Handbook: Volume II, in May 2019. The print edition has sold out, but you can buy the digital edition here.
CAREER IN REVIEW
There is a growing consensus that England are on the verge of enjoying a golden generation. Having won the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cup titles, Under-19 European Championship and Toulon Tournament all in the last 18 months, it would be hard to reject that sentiment. But arguably the most encouraging development has been a shift in attitude between talent in the lower tiers and top tier, with players now being assessed on their merits as opposed to reputation. Looking beyond the familiar names, James Maddison has enjoyed a whirlwind twelve months, Jarrod Bowen and Che Adams look set for Premier League moves, while Mason Mount and Reece James continue pushing for first-team involvement at Chelsea. Max Aarons has taken a less glamorous route to those mentioned above, but his rise has been just as impressive.
MAX AARONS WAS THE ONLY TEENAGER SELECTED IN THE MEN'S PFA CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM OF THE YEAR
Having originally started his career at Luton Town, the 19-year-old is no stranger to success. He – alongside Jay Dasilva, Cauley Woodrow and current team-mate Jamal Lewis – was part of the group that stunned Barcelona to become Under-11 European champions at the Aarau Masters in 2009.
Aarons then joined Norwich in 2016, before being handed a professional contract with the Canaries two years later. Since making his senior debut in August 2018, the defender has become a mainstay under Daniel Farke and contributed significantly throughout their Championship winning campaign, playing 90 minutes in every game since missing the first five matches of the season.
STYLE OF PLAY
Built in the ideal mould for a full-back, Aarons excels going forward. Marauding runs from deep have become his trademark, using agility and sharpness over the first five yards to beat players with ease. The 19-year-old is currently averaging 1.5 take-ons per 90 minutes - a rate bettered only by Bristol City defender Dasilva (1.7 per 90) across the whole division. His increasingly productive partnership with Emiliano Buendía has also been a major positive for Norwich this season, with Aarons’ by-line runs featuring heavily in their attacking play. When breaking through, young players often find themselves over-hitting passes or choosing the wrong option. This is usually down to nerves or an eagerness to impress, and entirely understandable given the pressure. But Aarons approaches dangerous situations in a cool, methodical manner that affords every opportunity to the striker. There is a variety to his end product that sees him either cut-back low balls, drill crosses across the six-yard box or hang up delicate chips which can then be attacked. For the Canaries, he has proven his ability to pick out targets on a consistent basis with Teemu Pukki and Jordan Rhodes both profiting.
His ball-striking technique is also surprisingly accomplished. When darting in from wide areas, Aarons troubles goalkeepers with rasping shots that need very little back-lift, often dipping and swerving through bodies which then benefits those following in for rebounds. He also has a habit of ghosting in at the back post, taking advantage of defenders who lose concentration or have other players to mark, with his late equaliser against Bristol City in December a perfect example of this. But despite his forward-thinking style, the England under-19 international has shown he can still be reliable defensively. He is a fine reader of in-game situations, excelling at cutting out through balls fed in between the centre-back and full-back. His speed allows him to cover slower partners – usually Timm Klose and Christopher Zimmermann – who are vulnerable when running back towards their own goal. Aarons is very much a front-footed defender, averaging 1.6 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per 90 minutes, whilst conceding only 0.6 fouls per 90. This highlights his aggressive, yet controlled approach. However, improvement could be made upon the conservative nature of his passing. This may be a specific instruction from Farke but his distribution comes off as slightly safe. The ‘deep progressions’ stat measures how often a player brings the ball into the final third, and he currently averages 3.4 deep progressions per 90, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Aaron Wan-Bissaka average 6.8 and 7.2 respectively. Granted, they are already elite talents, but having a wider range of line-breakers could be influential in the Canaries’ survival next season.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
First and foremost, Aarons should be playing in yellow and green in the Premier League. Both Arsenal and Tottenham have been linked with moves but unless obscene sums are offered, staying in a familiar environment at Carrow Road seems likely to only aid his development. The seamless nature of his transition into first-team football makes us forget that this is a 19-year-old with less than 50 appearances to his name.
That being said, the Luton academy graduate plays like a defender ten years his senior. He has everything needed to become a real force from full-back, boasting speed and an adventurous nature but also diligence in equal measure. The fact that he is English (and therefore homegrown) will only add to his appeal to the Premier League’s elite, who are always tussle for home-grown players to fill the quota. What instantly became apparent was how trusting everybody was in his ability. The ease in which Aarons combines with others cannot be understated, with Buendía, Onel Hernández and Mario Vrančić all able to play their natural games instead of holding his hand. It is clear his future belongs in the top flight, but he will want to get a full season in the Premier League under his belt before allowing top-six sides to battle for his signature.