Aaron Pressley has seen first-hand what it takes to make it to the top
And now he’s ready for his time in the spotlight.
Born in Edinburgh, the 20-year-old started his youth academy career in his native country, playing at Celtics and Hearts. Once his dad got a job in England, he moved down here with the dream of making it professional.
“I've always sort of played football. When you first start playing you don't think this is going to be a career. But you obviously watch players and you look up to players and think ‘I wish that could be me.’ It’s at 14, 15, 16 years old where you start to realise that this could be your career because you're actually pretty good at it.”
After some time at Aston Villa, Pressley signed a contract with Brentford B in 2020.
“The three years at Aston Villa were really enjoyable; it’s a great club. But I had the opportunity to come down to Brentford, and train with a new coach who knew that he would get the best out of me,” Pressley said.
“It was a great opportunity to come down here and show what I can do and try and push on with my career. At Aston Villa, it's tough to break through. If you're not a top player, you’ll really struggle to break into the first team, so I chose a different pathway.”
“He’s somebody with a top desire to improve himself every day, which is what we want in the group, and he’s a player that will push our group relentlessly as well with the way he goes about his business… I think we’ve got a player with massive potential, his size that he brings at the top of the pitch in the number nine role gives us something we can really work on,” said Brentford B’s head coach, Neil MacFarlane, upon Pressley’s signing.
Certainly some high praise to live up to, but Pressley has delivered, not shying away from any opportunity. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EFL expanded the number of substitutions on the bench, allowing Pressley to be named on the first team’s bench, making three substitution appearances during Brentford’s season.
“I was pretty nervous [to make my Championship debut]. I was more nervous than excited. I remember being on the bench for the first time and when the manager told me to go and warm up, I tripped down the stairs. I think it was live on Sky, my debut, so it was a little bit nerve wracking but everyone, when they’re younger, wants to make their senior debut live on TV which was great. Especially because I came on for Ivan Toney, so that was a good time. A good moment for me. I've played some of the best football I've played since joining Brentford.”
Pressley, who towers at 6’5 at plays up top, has said that being around the first team, and watching Toney in training and on the pitch was extremely beneficial.
“We're a little bit similar, I think. Watching his movement, his link-up play, and watching how he handles himself on and off the pitch was really good for me.”
When Brentford were promoted, it was important for both Pressley and the club that he continued to get game time. He joined AFC Wimbledon on loan for the season, making 27 appearances, and scoring four goals.
As a young player, it can be difficult to adapt when joining a new environment on loan, especially because at the time, fans were starting to be welcomed back into stadiums.
“It took me a bit of time to adjust at first. But you know what, I loved it there. I loved every second: the training and the playing. I just wish that I played a little bit more and that my injury didn't stop me,” Pressley said referring to his hamstring, which he initially injured near Christmas time, and then reaggravated again in February of this year.
“I damaged my tendon, then did rehab, came back and then played two games for Wimbledon. In the second game at the last minute, I went down with my hamstring again, which was a little bit frustrating. But I think now for me, it's just about concentrating on getting back for preseason. I had a scan a couple of days ago, which was positive. I want to push on though, try and get back training, and try and get back fit for the start of next season. Wherever that takes me.”
There may be questions surrounding next season, but having a former footballer as a father certainly helps when making decisions within football. Pressley’s dad, Steven Pressley, was a centre-back whose career almost spanned two decades. He made 32 appearances for the Scottish National team, and over 400 appearances for several of Scotland’s top clubs, including Rangers, Celtic, Dundee United, and Hearts.
“He's just given me some good advice along the way. I think he's been on the journey before so he sort of knows what's required.
“But I try and be my own player. We're different as players, and I want to make my own mark,” he adds.
Football isn’t the only thing Pressley takes after from his father. They both have a keen eye for fashion. Back in 2006, Steven was shortlisted for the annual Scottish Style Awards, which looked to award “Scotland’s most trendsetting men and women.” He was nominated alongside David Tennant, who of course is most famous for his role as The Doctor in Doctor Who, and fellow athlete Dario Franchitti, one of Scotland's most famous IndyCar and NASCAR racers, among others.
“I think he was top five, no chance he’d be number one,” Pressley jokes. “But yeah, I think you see a lot of footballers these days getting into fashion a little bit more, like [Dominic] Calvert-Lewin and [Héctor] Bellerín. For footballers, it’s so full on. You’re constantly training and playing, and having an interest outside of football is important, so fashion is something that I’m interested in. I like to dress different. People would say I don't dress like many of the players in the dressing room at the minute, but it's whatever you feel comfortable doing and that's what fashion is about. It's what people are comfortable wearing and how they express themselves. So I’ve found that pretty cool.”
The main focus is football though, Pressley makes that clear. He isn’t interested in setting particular goals for himself. He just wants to make sure that he is always giving it 100%.
“I'd like to be known as a player that's made the most of their career, and pushed the boundaries of my abilities. I want to give my best and see what that gets me and I'll be happy with that.”
Photography: Jonathan Tomlinson
Agency: Gen Z