Hearts should have earned millions on Aaron Hickey, but they will get a pittance, says Andy Walker

Sky Sports Scottish football pundit has his say on the in-demand defender that is attracting interest from a host of top clubs.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 22:  Aaron Hickey celebrates after scoring to make it 2-1 during the Ladbrokes Premiership match between Hibs and Hearts at Easter Road, on September 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Image: Aaron Hickey is a wanted man, and rightly so, after an impressive start to his career, writes Andy Walker

With just one year left on his contract, it's no surprise to learn Hearts defender Aaron Hickey is a wanted man.

He turns 18 on Wednesday and, despite playing a career total of just 24 games in the Scottish Premiership, it's been suggested Chelsea, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Celtic have all expressed an interest in signing the promising full-back.

'Hickey could follow Gilmour path'

Even this early in his career, I think Hickey would be a great option for Chelsea.

It's well known Frank Lampard is looking for options to possibly replace either Marcos Alonso or Emerson Palmieri and Leicester's Ben Chilwell would probably be his No 1 target.

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But there's no doubt in my mind that, in time, Hickey could follow the example of Liverpool's Andrew Robertson or Arsenal's Kieran Tierney and adjust from playing in the Scottish Premiership to thriving in the more demanding English Premier League.

Given that he would be a very cheap option, in my view it would be worth it for Chelsea to take Hickey now and school him in their coaching system. Chelsea will of course realise there are a few gems to be found in Scotland having signed Billy Gilmour from Rangers for no more than a development fee for the Ibrox club.

Aaron Hickey celebrates for Hearts
Image: Hickey celebrates scoring a sensational goal for Hearts in the Edinburgh derby against rivals Hibernian

Gilmour joined Chelsea as 16-year-old three years ago and now look at him. He's regarded as one of their brightest prospects and earned rave reviews for his outstanding contribution in Chelsea's 2-0 FA Cup win over Liverpool earlier this season.

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As things stand, Hickey is all potential. But, like Gilmour at a young age, Hickey will have exciting choices to make soon.

Frank Lampard Billy Gilmour
Image: Billy Gilmour has enjoyed a breakthrough season at Chelsea under the management of Frank Lampard

As an alternative to the option of moving to a big English club now, he could choose a career path similar to that of Tierney who won multiple trophies for Celtic in a four-year period before moving to Arsenal for a life-changing sum of money for him and £25m for his club.

Ideally, for those of us who cover the Scottish game on a weekly basis, he would follow the trajectory of someone like Tierney or John McGinn and develop in Scotland before the inevitable riches of English football or the draw of playing abroad lure him away.

'Hearts could have earned millions, but will get a pittance'

In all honesty, I'm struggling to understand why Hearts have misread this so badly.

How they did not recognise Hickey would become their most sellable asset a year ago is beyond me!

On May 19, 2019, just one week before both clubs would meet again in the Scottish Cup final, I was part of the Sky Sports team that showed Celtic v Hearts live and I watched this young kid make only his second appearance for the Tynecastle club and I liked what I saw.

No one would have regarded him as world beater then but clearly, the potential was enormous.

Ann Budge has addressed claims about some of Hearts' players in relation to the owner's request for them to waive part of their salaries
Image: Hearts owner Ann Budge is likely to receive a relatively small fee for Hickey, who is out of contract next summer

As a left-back, I was immediately struck by how comfortable he was when cutting infield and drilling a crossfield pass to a team-mate with this right foot. The following week, manager Craig Levein had enough faith in him to give him a starting slot against Celtic in the cauldron of a national cup final. Again, he showed he could handle a big occasion.

Surely that was the time to extend his contract?

I've also seen him play just as effectively as a right-back. There are not many full-backs who are equally at home on the right and left hand side of the pitch. It's to Hickey's credit he has developed this skill so well.

Image: Hearts are preparing for life outside of the Scottish Premiership

From a Hearts point of view, they have passed up the very real prospect of bringing in millions to the club by not offering Hickey a long-term contract over the past 12 months. I imagine they will lose him for a pittance and they will only have themselves to blame.

When the coronavirus hit the world of football hard in March, Hearts owner Ann Budge was quick off the mark to issue what many regarded as an ultimatum to their squad - take a 50 per cent wage cut or accept a pay deal to leave!

It's a tough time for Hearts and everyone else, but with better management of Hickey, Hearts could have made a fortune.

In recent years, Scottish football has seen Robertson, Tierney, McGinn and Virgil van Dijk all move on to bigger and better things, bringing much needed millions into our game.

All of those players would be the first to tell you Scottish football has given them a tremendous, competitive environment in which to flourish.

*Sky Sports Scottish football pundit Andy Walker is one of our regular columnist - read some more of his work below…

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