Steven Naismith defends ex-Hearts team-mate Aaron Hickey after controversial call-up
The Bologna left-back was a controversial addition to Steve Clarke’s squad for the upcoming friendly matches against Poland and then either Austria or Wales after turning down the opportunity to join Scot Gemmill’s under-21s.
Some onlookers felt the 19-year-old should have paid his dues in the younger age bracket, while others questioned his character and whether there was a hint of arrogance at refusing to turn out for Gemmill’s side.
Scotland coach Naismith, who played for a season with Hickey in the Hearts first-team before the youngster’s move to Serie A, insists there’s been a misconception.
“From playing with him, when he was breaking through, he has the calmness and confidence within himself that you need,” said Naismith, who remains at Tynecastle as player development manager.
“He is quite a shy and reserved character off the pitch, but he has that confidence when he steps on the pitch that he is good enough to be here. I have no doubt about that whatsoever.
“The longer he is around and the more people see him, they’ll understand what he is like. He is a guy who just gets his head down and works really hard at his football.
“To look at his character from afar, for somebody so young to say “I’m going to take my career to Italy”, and be over there with no family, no nothing, shows you the type of character that he is.
“He has been brought up well. He is very well mannered and he understands and appreciates the opportunity that he got. That’s the main thing.
“Over time, people will understand and see the type of character that he is. I’ve not got a doubt about that.”
Despite still being a teenager, Hickey has already managed to make himself a first-team regular at Bologna, where he’s scored four goals in 27 league games this term.
Though coming into a crowded left-back corps for Scotland, what with captain Andrew Robertson and Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney, there is a hope Hickey can cover other positions for the national team.
“He has a lot of attributes that don’t define him purely as a left back or a left wing-back. He is an intelligent footballer, so I’m sure that – if required – he could play in a number of positions for Scotland,” Naismith said.
“He’s got potential to achieve what he wants to achieve. Not being defined as left-back is a massive attribute for him. I saw him play right-back, centre-half and on the left for Hearts. And this is a guy who was in his first year as a professional in the first team. He embraced it. He didn’t look out of place.
“He is comfortable on both feet, another thing that, for young players, is not seen a lot. And he’s got that calmness. You see it in Nathan [Patterson] and Billy [Gilmour]. They have a calmness when they’ve got the ball.
“In years gone by, young players might be a good defender or a good goalscorer. But they’re missing that composure. What makes these guys different is that they’ve got that composure. Hickey certainly goes into that category.”