Fan Zone: Why Max Aarons is Norwich City’s brightest star
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Remember this time last year? Jon Punt does – and he likes what he is seeing now
What a difference a year makes.
In late December 2017, Jamal Lewis was thrown in at the deep end – thrust into a pressure cooker as Daniel Farke's side struggled to get a foothold in the Championship. There was talk of a relegation dogfight on the horizon, question marks about the head coach and the direction City were taking, yet the full-back's inclusion along with a more solidified defensive line started to steady the ship.
City weren't pretty, but they did enough to keep their heads above water. However, optimism wasn't exactly at optimum levels, the rebuilding job looked huge.
Fast forward 12 months and four academy players have a legitimate claim to a starting berth in City's XI, all slotting seamlessly into the expansive, free-flowing style Farke has asked his team to buy into. Behind them, the pathway to the first team is being carefully managed for Norwich's current crop of promising youngsters. A cultural change of growing and developing your own, possibly borne out of necessity, but ultimately one which is popular with fans, has started to sweep throughout the club.
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Of the fledgling quartet currently holding down a place in the side, there is one star that is shining brightest of them all, that of Max Aarons.
Since being selected for his league debut in the white hot heat of derby day, he has tasted defeat only twice. Since September 2. Drink that in. The full-back has been a huge part of Norwich's rise up the table and startling run of form.
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Aarons' composure is possibly his greatest strength. Still in his formative years, his trickery in tight pockets of space is masterful for a man of his age. Ally this to his blistering pace and it makes for a formula which has given Norwich another dimension to their play. Not only can City play through the thirds with the accurate passing of a Moritz Leitner or Mario Vrancic, they can now rely on Aarons to carry the ball 30 or 40 yards up the pitch in the blink of an eye.
Whereas the Canaries' style of last season was often accused of being one dimensional or too ponderous, youthful exuberance now holds the key to some of the team's more effective forays into the final third – a case in point being the swagger with which Aarons exchanged one-twos with his colleagues as he ran a full 70 yards, before nonchalantly teeing up the ball on a plate for Pukki's tap-in at Hillsborough.
However, what is more striking about Aarons' emergence is the way in which he has adjusted to senior football, and the consistency he's demonstrated since he was given his chance. His technical ability with the ball, and strength to protect it when in trouble, has fused perfectly with the philosophy Farke is cultivating on the fields of Colney.
As games have continued to come thick and fast, Aarons has delivered on every occasion. Experienced and seasoned professionals have tested his mettle, yet every time he's come out of top. Recently when his error led to Forest's opener, Aarons didn't dwell on it, focusing instead on the task in hand rather than what had gone before it. It's so easy to forget that just 11 months ago he wasn't eligible to vote or pop out for a quick pint with his mates.
If the young man's staggering progression continues at this rate there is every chance Aarons will out-grow Norwich in the same way James Maddison did so spectacularly before him. The London-born lad may have been discovered by Luton, but his integration into the first team set-up can only be credited to sporting director Stuart Webber and Farke. So rapid has been his rise that they may both need to start the succession planning this summer. Talk of interest from Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal will only be the start of things to come. This lad is the real deal and could easily go on to to represent his country at senior level should his career be correctly managed. Promotion could well extend his stay in Norfolk but for now, enjoy him while you can, City fans. He really is one in a (Maxi)-million.