Danny Wilson admits his aim this season is to get games under his belt
Danny Wilson tells us he was not at all fazed upon meeting Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres for the first time.
It was hardly a revelation. Wilson, you suspect, could be invited to Buckingham Palace for high tea with the Queen and barely bat an eyelid at the prospect.
There is a quiet confidence about Wilson, still only 18 years-old, that is clearly inherent. Articulate, thoughtful and composed, it soon became apparent not long after he made the breakthrough into the Rangers first team last November that this was a young man capable of taking most things in his stride.
So his sense of calm is partially in-built. But it is probably also shaped by all he has been through in the past nine months. This time last year Wilson’s only concern was whether he would be able to command a place in Rangers’ reserve side.
Now he is a Liverpool player rubbing shoulders every day with international superstars like Gerrard and Torres. It is not the kind of thing that usually happens to young Scottish players. But when you have evolved, in the space of a year, from a promising talent known only to the most anorak-ish of Rangers followers to someone potentially feted by millions the world over, then the sense of shock must surely dissipate with every giant leap you take forward.
Rangers will still be the strongest team in Scotland next season – I have no doubts about that. That’s simply because of Walter’s influence and the players they’ve managed to keep. Danny Wilson
Rangers tried in vain throughout the summer to get Wilson to extend his contract at Ibrox but the lure of Liverpool proved too great. Even a change of manager, when Roy Hodgson replaced Rafa Benitez, failed to derail the transfer, the deal finally completed late last month when the defender signed a three-year deal and Rangers received an initial fee of £2m in return.
Wilson claims he was not hankering for a move but could not say no once Liverpool made their interest apparent. “I would have been happy to stay at Rangers had Liverpool not made an offer,” he said. “But once I knew they were interested, the thoughts going through my head were that it was a chance I wanted to take.
“It was an offer I felt I couldn’t turn down. Rangers are a massive club but so are Liverpool. They’re a top-four Premiership club and the offer to go there doesn’t come up every day. I didn’t want to think in a few years’ time, ‘I could have gone there’. I wanted to challenge myself and not worry that it might not happen for me.”
Any suggestion that this move has come too soon for the player are dismissed with a shake of the head. He did not feature in Liverpool’s Europa League tie against Rabotnicki and must muscle his way past Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos, another former Ranger, if he is to find a place in Hodgson’s central defence.
It would seem only natural if Wilson were to accept he must learn his apprenticeship with the reserves for a year or two, perhaps featuring sporadically for the first team in the League Cup or in times of medical emergencies. That may turn out to be the case but the player, fiercely ambitious, is not ready to narrow his options just yet.
“There’s being patient and there’s sitting back and accepting it,” he shrugged. “I want to push myself into the first team at Liverpool as quickly as I can but it’s the manager’s decision. If you ask any player if they feel they’re ready to play, they’ll say yes and I’m no different. If the manager feels I need more time, I’ll accept it and work even harder to get into the side.
“My aim for the season is to get games under my belt and be there or thereabouts. I’m in with the first-team squad right now and I plan to stay there. The training is different but it’s something I’m enjoying. There’s a lot of defensive focus on it and that will benefit me – I’m only 18 and need to keep learning.”
And what about the club he has left behind? Wilson spent a decade at Rangers from the age of eight until 18, more than half of his life. He is grateful that a transfer fee will soften the blow of his departure, but believes that there is sufficient strength and depth in Walter Smith’s squad to enable them to retain the championship.
“I feel quite satisfied that Rangers have got some good money for me and hopefully it can help them buy some new players now. They’ve lost a few but they’ll still be the strongest team in Scotland next season – I have no doubts about that. That’s simply because of Walter’s influence and the players they’ve managed to keep. I still think they can see off Celtic this season.”
Another challenge awaits this week when Wilson will make his Scotland under-21 debut against Sweden tomorrow night. It has been an incredible journey but he hasn’t finished travelling yet.
“As a kid, you always have dreams of playing in England for a big club but that’s just your imagination. For it to happen in 10 months after my debut is incredible. It’s more than I hoped for but I don’t think I’ve made it yet. It’s important to stay grounded – my family would never allow me to get ahead of myself.
“I want to keep progressing and be the best player I can be. I’ll only do that by working hard and not becoming an idiot.”
There is little chance of the latter.
Copyright - Scottish Herald - interview by Graeme Macpherson