Aaron Hickey walks into a Brentford bar.

He’s a bit lucky to be there, considering a hard-headed bouncer just demanded he produce some ID. Nothing out of the ordinary for your average 20-year-old, but perhaps not for one who, literally just across the road, spent his afternoon aiding in that 4-0 demolition of Manchester United.

“My dad and a few of my cousins were at the game,” he recalled. “After the match, actually, they were at the pub around the corner with some Brentford fans. I’ve just popped in to see them and say hello, but I don’t think any of the fans actually recognised me – they just thought I was some random bloke in the pub. A funny thing, actually, the security guard stopped me and said: ‘Show me your ID!’”

Hickey cracks up at the absurdity of it, but you get the distinct impression he prefers a quiet life.

Craig Levein once said ‘he never speaks, he just smiles’, but these days it seems less like shyness and more being so laid back as to be almost horizontal. His CV already speaks more than words ever could, anyway.

Hearts debut at 16, Bologna at 18, Scotland cap at 19, becoming only the fourth Scot behind Joe Jordan, Graeme Souness and Denis Law to score in fabled Serie A, then the Premier League barely a month out of his teens – what else is there to say? Few from these shores have ever covered so many bases at this age.

Fewer, certainly, will have been so well travelled. West London is home now, easier for friends and family to visit, but Hickey does miss Italy. He admits being partial to a fond browse back through his camera roll, but wouldn’t we all? There can’t be many places where keeping your diet in check becomes so testing for a professional footballer.

The Herald: Hickey admits he misses ItalyHickey admits he misses Italy (Image: PA)

“It’s funny you say that,” Hickey said, sitting back in a dressing room chair. “The first time I went to Bologna, I had a meeting with a few of the main people at the club and they were saying: ‘Yeah, one of the things we really focus on is diet’. We were talking about the food – and obviously it’s good over there. They were saying diet is so important. Me and my dad were sitting there sort of giggling away, but they were being totally serious, like ‘no, you really need to watch what you’re doing’.”

It’s safe to assume Hickey’s willpower did not crumble, because it wasn’t long at all after his move from Tynecastle to Emilia-Romagna he found himself being eulogised as one of the top young defenders in Europe, opening the door to Brentford in July last year.

“I felt ready for the Premier League,” Hickey said. “After Serie A, that was what I wanted to do next – the Premier League has always been my dream, I think it’s the best league.”

But how did he find the transition, one so often billed as the most difficult in football?

“I just find it like a normal match, to be honest,” said Hickey. “It was the same in Serie A. For, me it’s just a game of football, I don’t really think about the standards, I focus on the game.”

Eternally unflustered, Hickey has not allowed charm offensives from an array of top clubs dictate what he thinks is best for his career. Quiet he may be, but there is no lack of assertiveness and belief in his own decision-making. Formerly of their academy, his boyhood club Celtic made several attempts to sign him from Hearts, Bayern Munich rolled out the red carpet with a personal tour of their facilities, Aston Villa were frequently linked – all shunned in favour of Bologna, a decision quickly justified.

Last summer, there was also reported interest from Arsenal and others. So, why Brentford?

“What they were saying interested me the most,” Hickey explained. “I had a Zoom call with the manager before I signed and he told me what his plans were for me. The fact that it was in London, and it being such a nice area, helped me make the decision.

“I’m still young and I want to progress and play football. At my age, the most important thing for me is to get as much game-time as I can.

“I feel like Brentford and Bologna were the best opportunities for me to get that. I’m not saying that I would [definitely] have got the game-time but those were the best chances to get it.”

The Herald: Brentford paid Bologna £14m for the Scotland internationalBrentford paid Bologna £14m for the Scotland international (Image: PA)

A few months down the line and it again appears a shrewd call, with Hickey initially featuring regularly for a club everyone agrees is on the up and up. It hasn’t all been positive, though – an ankle injury sustained in October kept him away from first-team football until only a week ago, an hour’s run-out against Southampton hopefully marking the end of a frustrating period. Any concern around picking up where he left off should be quelled by how Hickey responded strongly to a troublesome shoulder issue in Bologna, one which eventually required surgery.

“No matter where you are, getting injured is really difficult,” he said. “But having just moved down to the club, I wanted to make an impression, then to get an injury… that’s hard. But, to be fair, I got a good few games in at the start of the season. If I hadn’t done that, it would’ve been much harder.”

One of those games was, of course, Brentford’s greatest ever result. Erik ten Hag’s Man United, still very much in disarray from last season, sloped into the Gtech Community Stadium back in August and left having been completely annihilated. The aftermath included the moment Hickey went barrelling into a humiliated Cristiano Ronaldo - leaving him crumpled in a heap on the deck - being clipped and shared far and wide on social media. Hickey looks slightly mortified at the memory of being a viral sensation and I feel bad for even bringing it up.

“Yeah, everyone talks about that…” he said, with a hint of weariness. “I don’t really know what to say about it. It just happened to be him – I don’t know too much about it, it just sort of… happened. Everyone was messaging me saying ‘you’ve just done Ronaldo!’”

The Herald: 'It just sort of... happened.''It just sort of... happened.' (Image: Getty Images)

That tenacity almost certainly formed part of what convinced Thomas Frank to sign the full-back for £14m. Hickey feels Frank – ‘a really nice person and one of the best coaches around’ – has, with the help of his staff, already elevated his game to another level with some meticulous one-on-one guidance. On that front, the amiable Dane is continuing the work of the late Sinisa Mihajlović.

Aged just 53, Mihajlović died in December following a three-year battle with leukaemia, throughout most of which he remained in post as Bologna manager. Once a dynamic full-back himself, the former Lazio and Inter favourite’s influence on Hickey was immense, both as a player and a person, and his mentor’s passing hit him hard.

“It was such a shame, he really meant a lot to me,” Hickey said. “He gave me my opportunity at the club and I’m just thankful for that. I was gutted, obviously. He definitely had a big influence on me. It wasn’t just on the pitch, it was away from it, too – how to act, he was a good role model. He was really strict, and he was hard on you, but I think that’s what helped me. He kept me on my toes and didn’t let me slip down. After I had a few games and did well, he kept on top of me. I can’t thank him enough for what he did.”

Hickey’s decision to take the route less travelled, preceded by Liam Henderson at Bari and now Empoli, has seemingly influenced others to head for Italy when the chance arises. Lewis Ferguson pitched up in Bologna shortly following Hickey’s departure, while Josh Doig is making a serious impression at Hellas Verona. All three have since found themselves in Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad, and will have an eye on being there again when Euro 2024 qualifying commences at home to Cyprus on March 25.

“It [Italy] helped me massively,” Hickey said. “I became more flexible, trying other things out in Italy managed to help me do that. I was playing a different way to what I did at Hearts, adding different things to my game. Once you add things you can only then try to improve, I’m trying to do that here at Brentford.

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“More people are starting to go abroad. I don’t know, maybe they’ve seen me or Liam Henderson, we were sort of the first two. It’s really nice, and good to see. You’ve got Lewis Ferguson and Josh Doig in Serie A, Jack Hendry is playing abroad and they’re all doing well. I feel like players could do more of that.”

Hickey revealed Ferguson used him as a sounding board before embarking for the continent, but what advice do you give a fellow Scot abroad? Be sure to keep a straight face when they tell you to go easy on the pasta?

Hickey laughs.

“Hopefully, the next time I see him he’s not too big.”

That could well be at Hampden next month, where his chances of getting in and out without being recognised are far slimmer than London.