Finding the right place for Thelo Aasgaard

Thelo Aasgaard has worked on the physical side of his game to complement his technical skills

The “Rabona” is probably the most difficult technique in football. When the ball is kicked the kicking leg is crossed behind the back of the standing leg. Eric Lamela made national headlines last season when he scored a Rabona for Tottenham against Arsenal. He made it look easy.

In February 2017 Wigan Athletic posted a video clip on YouTube. It showed a 14-year-old scoring a “Rabona” in a U15 game against Blackburn Rovers. It made Lamela’s effort look pale in comparison.

Thelonious Gerard Aasgaard had joined Latics not long before after having been with Liverpool’s youth system. Although born in Liverpool, his father is of Norwegian heritage and his mother of French. Aasgaard represented Norway at U16 level. During the past week he was called up to their U20 squad.

Aasgaard has dubbed by some as the “Wigan Grealish”, a compliment to a young player with a similarly high level of technical ability. Like Grealish his natural position is as a number 10, but he tends to get played in wide positions. Despite possessing sublime skills, it took Aasgaard some time for him to develop the physique to cope with the competitive side of the game.

Thelo Aasgaard made his senior debut for Latics against Peterborough in a League 1 game on October 20, 2020. He went on to make a major contribution in helping a club in administration to hold on to its place in the division in finishing one point above Rochdale in 20th place. Over the course of the season, he made 13 league starts with 20 appearances off the bench, scoring 3 goals.

In most of Aasgaard’s appearances last season he was played in wide positions. However, in recent months Latics signed wingers Gwion Edwards, Jordan Jones and James McClean. Moreover, both Callum Lang and Gavin Massey, who play wide, remain from last season’s squad. With such competition for places in wide positions what are Aasgaard’s chances of getting regular game time this season?

Aasgaard was a starter in the Carabao Cup match at Hull, then came on after 79 minutes in the draw against Wycombe. With Massey, Edwards and McClean chosen as the advanced midfield three for the Carabao Cup encounter with Bolton he once again found himself on the bench, being brought on after 70 minutes.

It has been acknowledged by management that the club being under administration last season gave opportunities for younger players that they would not normally have had. Over the course of the 2020-21 season ten players from the U23 squad went on to make their League 1 debuts. Ollie Crankshaw, Owen Evans, Charlie Jolley. Kyle Joseph, Chris Merrie, Emeka Obi and Alex Perry have since departed.

Aasgaard, Adam Long and Luke Robinson remain. Between the three of them they amassed 72 league appearances last season. However, with the arrival of so many senior pros their opportunities have been much diminished. Long started in the first game at Sunderland but was displaced by the loan signing of Kell Watts. Robinson started against Hull and in the Rotherham game when he was substituted after 56 minutes.

Latics will be looking at offering extended contracts to both Long and Robinson. Aasgaard signed a new contract in January. But other than appearing in the cup competitions are they likely to feature on the first team roster? Only Aasgaard was in the squad to face Portsmouth on Saturday, with Leam Richardson opting to choose an unbalanced bench without a recognised defender.

Like any other manager given expectations of a high position in the table, Richardson will rely on the experienced senior pros in his squad. Last season he had no choice but to include players from the U23 squad. The majority of them have gone, but what are his plans for the three that remain? Will they go back to being regarded as U23 players, being fielded in cup ties or having occasional appearances from the bench for the senior team? Or will they be sent off on loan to eventually return with more experience?

Callum Lang’s return from a loan spell at Motherwell in January was pivotal. His goals, so well-taken, made a massive contribution towards Latics staying in League 1. Prior to that, Lang had looked like the player Paul Cook just did not want. The player had the potential to follow on from his considerable successes with the club’s youth team. But he was still only 19 when he was sent on loan to Morecambe in 2017. He performed well there as he later did in subsequent loans at Oldham, Shrewsbury and Motherwell over those four years.

However, fans of Cook would say that the manager knew exactly what he was doing in sending a talented young player off on loan for that period of time. The club had been careful to make sure the player’s contract had not lapsed during that era. Lang is a key player in the current squad, and it is so good to hear that his new extended contract is about to be announced.

With the reports suggesting Latics will be signing two more central defenders in the next 24 hours it looks likely that Long will once again be sent off on loan. He was at National League Notts County for a short loan term in the latter part of the 2019-20 season. Robinson is likely to stay as back-up to Tom Pearce, but the latter is in the last year of his contract and the club could cash in the final stages of the transfer window. Reports suggest that Latics are looking to sign another full back, but it could be someone accustomed to playing on either flank.

Aasgaard, Long and Robinson are excellent prospects for the future. Of the three it is Aasgaard who stands out. His high technical ability is backed up with a strong work ethic and a real “football brain”.

Thelo could well become a genuine “Wigan Grealish” if his career trajectory is correctly managed. To see him languishing in the U23 side, with occasional cameos from the bench for the senior team, would be a real waste. But is he is to be sent out on loan, let it be to a club where his talents can be properly utilised?

Let’s hope the club can find the right place for their prodigy.