They say timing is everything.

For Aaron Hickey that phrase certainly rings true. The defender joined Bologna in Serie A from Hearts back in September and was immediately thrust into the starting line up after first-choice left-back Mitchell Dijks was sent off the week before.

He has hit the ground running in the Italian top tier since then. And he freely admits he has played more often than expected when he made the move. "I didn't expect to get my debut or play games that early," he said. "I thought I was going in as the backup left-back and then see how it goes for next season. 

"I was just hoping to make a few appearances and I managed that which has been really good for me in Serie A. The first-choice left-back got sent off and luckily the manager threw me in. My confidence after one game shot up and I think that helped me settle in easier."

While the timing for his club football was near-perfect, his international aspirations took somewhat of a hit when he dislocated his shoulder last month. Scotland boss Steve Clarke made contact, Hickey reveals, with coaches at Bologna to check on the 18-year-old. His injury had only just come about, and at the worst possible moment. Talk about bad timing.

"Hopefully I'll be able to get into the Scotland squad because it would be amazing," Hickey said. "Steve Clarke called up the coaches at Bologna, I believe he knows some of them from working at Aston Villa. I've not spoken to him myself but I was really happy to hear that he was monitoring my progress. One of the coaches told me and that was good to hear.

"I dislocated my shoulder about a month-and-a-half ago so I'd been out with that for about three weeks. I might have to get an operation on it soon but I don't know when.

"Steve called Bologna to monitor my progress, but by that time I wasn't training fully yet. So when he announced the squad I'd only been back in training about a week. He was just monitoring me, I don't know if I'd have been in any squad but it was really good to hear."

Scotland may not be blessed with top players in every position, but left-back is certainly one of the squad's strongest area. Champions and Premier League winner Andy Robertson and FA Cup-winning former Celtic star Kieran Tierney are two of our main men. Then there's Celtic's Greg Taylor behind them. So Hickey respects the situation and understands his playing time on the left-flank may well be limited, to say the least.

Luckily for the former Hearts youngster, he considers himself ambidextrous and hopes to fight for a spot in Clarke's squad on the right-hand side of their defence. Motherwell's Stephen O'Donnell has seemingly cemented his spot as first-choice right-back but Hickey hopes to challenge for that jersey. And with the Euros on their way, he hopes to do so, soon.

"Hopefully I can get an opportunity," he went on. "I don't know how many options we've got at right-back, I know Stephen O'Donnell but I can play right-back. And I think that might be a better option for me.

"I can play there, to me I don't really see it as much of a difference. I find it the same as left-back, which I prefer as it's my natural position, but there are so many great options there already. If playing at right-back full-time for Scotland was my best opportunity at getting into the squad then aye, no problem.

"It'd be a dream come true to play for Scotland. One of my targets is to try and make the Euro squad but there's no guarantee that will happen. I just need to focus on club football just now with Bologna but it would be something extra. We need to wait and see what might come about."

Hickey's move last summer was an exciting one for the player, if a little drawn out. That's because he had serious decisions to make. When Hearts resigned themselves to losing their prospect, it was all down to the kid himself to choose where he wanted to play his football.

A tour of Bologna's Niccolò Galli technical training centre was followed by a trip to their Renato Dall'Ara Stadium. Before that it was Germany and Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena where he would be invited to step onto the turf as the Bundesliga giants did their best to convince him to sign there. But his mind was made up, it would be Italy. 

Settling in has been difficult, Hickey says, with the language barrier just one of the issues he still has to overcome. He understands the basics both in everyday life and those pertaining to his profession. For everything else he has a translator, as well as a language coach.

"(My dad and I) went a wee holiday to see the city and got a really good vibe," he said. "The club was really welcoming as well. We went home for a bit because there was a few other interests but my mind was pretty much made up that it'd be Bologna.

"I went over to Germany with my agent and dad and Bayern Munich gave us a tour of the training ground, the facilities were immense. They were top class. Then we got to go to the stadium and get on the actual pitch which was a bit of a surprise. I also had that massive decision to make, but I just thought Bologna would be the better option for me. A top, top league in Serie A, living in Italy and the place just has a really nice feel to it.

"Everything's different, the lifestyle, the language so it's quite hard to speak to people. I love the city, the Italian people seem really nice. The football is different as well. I don't feel like I've explored Italy enough yet, though, with lockdown.

"Picking up the language is tough but I'm getting used to it. It'll be good to learn a different language, it will be good for me. I know all the basic stuff, pass, shoot, switch. I got a sheet as soon as I came with 'left', 'right', 'up' and all that."

Football is a universal language, thankfully, but even still, Hickey has had to really dig in to adapt to the mentality and intensity of Italy's top league. Unlike in the Scottish Premiership there is no room for error. Where in Scotland, mistakes may not always be capitalised on, Italy is a much more unforgiving environment.

World class international players ply their trade in Serie A and Hickey has come up against a handful of them already during his short time in the first-team to date. Ciro Immobile, Romelu Lukaku, Arturo Vidal are all names he's squared off against so far, but he also has big-names playing alongside him in Bologna's outfit.

"I still am adapting to the Italian game but I'm enjoying it," Hickey said. "The Scottish league is quite far behind. Here you have to be fully on your game absolutely all the time because you're always playing against top players. If you let someone go for a goal or it's your fault, everyone will be screaming at you. After the match it'll be about that with the analysis. The next week in training you'll practice what you did wrong.

"It's not even always for a goal, it's simple stuff like one-twos, how to defend them, just wee basic things. You have to be fully concentrated on it."

He added: "In terms of players, I mostly hang about with the boys my age but you have to look at players like Andrea Poli who has played for AC Milan. (Rodrigo) Palacio, Gary Medel. They're great players and you can just learn off them in training. The way they act as well is just so professional."

"We played Lazio and I actually played quite well that game. But Inter Milan, they were in a block of five defending and were so difficult to break down. Then they would counter-attack with pace with Lukaku up front and it was hard.

"On either side, left and right, they had lots of bodies around that area. In my position I'd have (Achraf) Hakimi down the side and then Vidal in front of me. It sounds mental! Hakimi, you didn't know what he was going to do, and he was really fast. He's probably the toughest player I've come up against."