David Freezer: Canaries star mixing with some of Europe's top talents
There's a Norwich City star competing with hot shots from Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich this season - and it's not Teemu Pukki...
On this occasion it’s the youngest member of Daniel Farke’s table-topping team in the spotlight: 19-year-old Max Aarons.
The right-back’s remarkable rise to prominence this season saw him become the first player born in the 21st century to represent the Canaries when he made his debut in a League Cup victory over Stevenage in August.
At the time Aarons was a young prospect that most City fans knew little about. Six months later he is the undisputed first choice in his position, an England Under-19 international and being linked with big-money moves to Premier League giants.
The extent of the academy product’s progress was summed up in the latest weekly post from the CIES Football Observatory, placing the full-back seventh in Europe in terms of experience for players born in 2000.
I won’t delve too deeply into the football geekery of the Football Observatory, it’s one for the purists, but in a nutshell it was set up in Switzerland in 2005 to specialise in statistical analysis of football, by the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES).
Their latest work highlights the 20 most experienced young players from 22 European competitions per year of birth, using a method which measures the amount and quality of domestic league minutes in the past two years.
And there sits Aarons, in the top 10 of players born in 2000 ahead of starlets from European giants including Bayern Munich, Ajax and Valencia.
He sits seventh in the list, three places behind Vinicius Junior, the exciting Brazilian winger already playing in the Champions League for Real Madrid, and five adrift of England and Dortmund breakthrough star Jadon Sancho.
The youngster top of the pile comes as little surprise: Fulham and England U21 left-back Ryan Sessegnon, who made his senior debut just 81 days after his 16th birthday and who has already played over 100 games.
For Norwich to even have a player close to some of the most highly-rated talents in European football, by any measure, is remarkable – and it’s hopefully just the beginning for Aarons.
Next week will be exactly a year since I interviewed the former Luton Town trainee at Colney, as City’s U18s prepared for an FA Youth Cup quarter-final against Birmingham at Carrow Road.
Speaking with an assured calm and confidence, he said: “With the home support there and playing under the lights is massive for us because obviously in the future we want to be playing every week at Carrow Road.”
He didn’t have to wait long.
Just 12 months later he’s a Championship regular who has made 30 appearances at senior level and been capped four times by the England U19s, with an excellent chance to be part of a promotion-winning squad.
Having joined the Canaries at the end of his U16 season, the speed of the Milton Keynes-raised starlet’s rise shows little sign of slowing. Four goals and four assists from those 30 games has pushed the experience of Ivo Pinto aside and kept the hype around Dortmund loanee Felix Passlack in the background. He’s played almost every minute of City’s last 28 league games – and tasted defeat only three times!
His performance during the 4-0 thumping of Bolton last weekend was the latest reminder of why Farke and sporting director Stuart Webber have put so much faith in him, with pivotal roles in the second and third goals.
Today also brings the speedy full-back up against Bristol City, the team he frustrated at Ashton Gate in December when he steamed in at the back post to head in an Onel Hernandez cross and earn a 2-2 draw for City, having been switched to the left when Farke changed formation.
There has been the odd bump in the road of course and if Aarons is to become a top-flight player he will have to maintain his rapid development. His cousin, former England U20 winger Rolando Aarons, still only 23 and on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, can tell him all about the mentality needed after seeing his chances at Newcastle wane.
Tottenham, Arsenal and Red Bull Leipzig have all been linked in national newspapers – and with such fine European company being kept in the Football Observatory charts, that’s little surprise.
Fortunately he’s under contract until 2023, so Norwich are in a strong position, whatever happens. So let’s enjoy Aarons’ buccaneering runs while we can, as the Premier League will surely beckon this summer, whether City make it back there, or not.
• BRAVO, BEN
Ben Godfrey is another of City’s youngsters deserving of a mention, as the 21-year-old continues to grow in confidence by the week.
It was Godfrey’s strong block in his own box which sparked the flowing move for the first goal during last weekend’s superb display at Bolton, as his partnership with Christoph Zimmermann goes from strength to strength,
He must have been fuming with Emi Buendia soon after the opening goal, though, after rampaging almost the length of the pitch, leaving home players for dust before handing over to Teemu Pukki, only for Buendia to get his shot totally wrong.
The Argentine, of course, made up for it with another excellent display, but Godfrey’s continued emergence as a centre-back earns Daniel Farke more credit by the game, with an England U21 call-up seemingly imminent. I also stumbled across an impressive stat. WhoScored.com report Godfrey’s average pass success percentage at 87.7 percent – only three players in the division average higher.
• SOCIAL SUCCESS
Congratulations to the Norwich City Fans Social Club for an excellent evening with Daniel Farke at Carrow Road on Wednesday night.
I’ve been enjoying a week of chores at home ahead of moving house – sorry, I mean relaxing at home during a week out of the office – so took my younger brother along to the Q&A.
It was an event where City’s head coach enhanced his standing among plenty of already adoring supporters, with the mixture of humour, warmth and intelligence that have made his media interviews so enjoyable since his arrival in May 2017.
Of course, that is against a backdrop of his team being top of the table, but Canaries fans also saw the German retain his charm during the difficult moments of his tough first campaign in England, so no one can begrudge him enjoying the acclaim.
Keep those high spirits bubbling with a vital win over in-form Bristol City today and that impending new contract will be celebrated like a win by all of City’s fans.
• Here’s the full CIES Football Observatory experience ranking for players born in 2000, click here for the full details in their latest weekly post.
1 Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham)
2 Jadon Sancho (Bor Dortmund)
3 Kik Pierie(Heerenveen)
4 Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)
5 Pavel Maslov (Spartak Moscow)
6 Sandro Tonali (Brescia)
7 MAX AARONS (NORWICH CITY)
8 Vladimir Scerciu (Genk)
9 Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
10 Diego Lainez (Real Betis)