Michael Bailey: Mixing, proving, delivering – why Max is leading the Norwich City way
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Max Aarons and his quartet of fellow young guns have been the toast of Norwich City this season – but for MICHAEL BAILEY, the reasons why and what happens next also deserves some new year scrutiny.
Five months ago, there would have been a lot of Norwich City supporters who would have given a slightly blank expression at the name Max Aarons.
The 18-year-old defender looked a cut above at Under-18 level last season, and comfortable when playing for the Under-23s. But it's hard to imagine anyone expected such assurance to immediately and seamlessly transpose itself into first-team football, and at Championship level.
Some of City's summer recruitment said similar.
At this point a lot of people will claim their role in taking the young man from academy football and making him ready for his breakthrough campaign – there will be plenty, and they will have played some part.
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But ultimately there is only one person pulling on boots, keeping concentrated and kicking the ball out on the pitch. For Aarons' sterling work this term the man himself deserves huge, resounding and sole credit.
He is not alone either. Jamal Lewis, Todd Cantwell and Ben Godfrey are all worthy of similar for backing the faith of some, proving others wrong and ultimately delivering all the numerous facets and qualities needed to make an impact in the senior game.
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They prove and ensure the Canaries now have a pathway for their academy talents that works – but equally one where those following in the quartet's steps don't assume the conveyor belt will whisk them through the same door, without the quality and qualities those before have exhibited on a regular basis.
No doubt playing in a winning side – whether despite or because of his own interventions – has aided Aarons' adjustment. Likewise, the man himself admits having young heads around him has been a helping hand.
'It's really good to have them around too,' said Aarons. 'Definitely to have them come with you and we're all playing at the same time, and how well the team is doing, it's really good to have my friends with me.
'We're mixing well with the senior lads too, to be fair. And that just shows the unity in the squad at the moment.
'They won't like being called the older heads, but them being on the bench on Saturday shows the squad's depth and how many quality players we've got. To be at the top end of the league, you have to have a lot of depth and to have those top players coming back in is amazing.'
Grant Hanley, Moritz Leitner and Onel Hernandez have all had recent injury set-backs of various degrees. All could have feasibly expected to start against Bristol City at Ashton Gate. Certainly in the case of Hernandez and Hanley, their need for patience owed to two of City's blossoming stars.
Aarons makes a good point too. Proving as a youngster you have at least potentially got what it takes to rip the shirt off a senior professional, requires an exchange in respect.
That mixing of City's old and new has been a success – in the same way Jordan Rhodes recently alluded to the rules of head coach Daniel Farke, in ensuring his multinational squad avoids compatriot cliques.
'If there are a few too many German players on one table, we have to mix it up – it's the same with the age thing as well,' added Aarons. 'We just try to keep it as neutral as we can so there are no divides. That makes a difference for us integrating into the group too, because you know all your team-mates better and it helps on the pitch when no one's a stranger.
'The lads have welcomed us in really well and I would like to think as younger players, we've worked as hard as we could to have helped the senior players. I think they've just given us the same respect we have given them, so it's a good position to be in.'
Aarons and his fellow young guns now have a similar challenge as the rest of Farke's City squad over the course of the 2018-19 season – to maintain their current and startling form.
In such formative times in a career, it is almost to be expected that breakthrough players will see their performance levels dip. Lewis, now 20, experienced it to a degree last season while many before him have played out a similar pattern. It is not a weakness, failing or flaw – but simply part of the process of adapting to senior football for most of those lucky and talented enough to get so far.
But its extent and effect over the rest of this season in each individual case, will say plenty about the potential of the player on Norwich City's books and just how far they could go.
What is no longer in doubt is that the youngsters are bringing their own fuel to the Canaries fire – and finding out the answers to all of the above and more, promises to continue this season's stirring ride.
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