What Might Have Been for Wilson.

As a football fan, the buzz of an academy player making their debut and looking the part is rarely surpassed. Perhaps by signing a player who was a boyhood fan or by breaking the transfer record, I reckon it’s safe to say there is a greater chance of the former than the latter nowadays! If reports are correct, and it seems they are, Danny Wilson is leaving Rangers to begin a new adventure in the USA. There’s nobody saying, “good riddance” or “please don’t go” so why the apparent apathy to his departure?

Almost every Rangers fan would say that Danny Wilson hasn’t fulfilled his potential. He made his debut at 17 and played 24 times that season, looking assured in possession and competent in defence. So natural did he look that Liverpool paid a decent amount of money for his services at the end of his first season as a senior professional. Comparisons with Alan Hansen were inevitable. He made his Scotland debut aged just 18 (and scored), there was no doubt he would be a future Scotland Captain.

With hindsight, it is obvious that Wilson should’ve stayed or have been loaned back to Rangers for a couple of seasons to continue getting first-team experience. After only 20 games of first-team football (9 with Liverpool) in three seasons, Wilson returned to Scotland to play with Hearts and re-discovered his form. Or did he?

I have a theory. When Wilson made his debut and for almost all of his appearances for Rangers in his first season he had David Weir inside him and Sasa Papac outside him at left back. He also had a combination of Kevin Thomson, Steven Davis, Pedro Mendes and Maurice Edu in front of him. Bear with me, I’m getting there, although you’ve probably worked it out by now.

In his first season, Wilson was protected. He only had to concentrate on his own game. Making clearances, winning headers, playing simple passes to a highly capable midfield. And he was very good at this. He has shown it this season too, there is no doubt he can be a very effective centre-half. He would be talked through every minute by Weir and Papac and how often did those two make mistakes or get caught out positionally? Wilson would barely have had to cover his centre-half partner or full back.

Wilson would also be protected from his midfield, Thomson was the ultimate destroyer and Davis doesn’t exactly have a bad engine either. And if anything did get through, Alan McGregor was frequently in the way.

This isn’t to say that Wilson was a poor player, he was just given a better opportunity to break into, then settle in the first team than most young players get. It was also a successful Rangers team, winning the League Championship in 2008/09, 2009/10 and 2010/11. He was made to look exceptional added to his own natural ability, therefore creating a false level of optimism about his potential ability.

When he returned to Hearts he played in a side that was relegated to the Championship, admittedly they began the season on -15 points but their points total was so low that they still would’ve finished second bottom and have to play in the relegation play-off. He found form the following season and was in the Team of the Year, but, it was the Championship. At 17 he had played in a Premiership winning Rangers team and been awarded three prestigious Young Player of the Year awards.

Wilson’s second spell at Rangers will be remembered with mixed emotions. He arrived classed as a relatively experienced centre-half. He had Captained Hearts for the last two seasons and his role now was to not only perform his own duties but to cover his left back, the other centre-half and organise the defence. Yes, he was frequently left isolated or in 2 v 2 scenarios with Rob Kiernan but he had the responsibility of making sure the full backs were covered from midfield. He made more individual errors and the perception was (is) that he had regressed from when he was 17/18.

It’s no coincidence he has shown in games this year that he has improved. He has played alongside Bruno Alves when Wilson wouldn’t have the organisational role or have to cover him as much, making it easier to concentrate on his own game. When you look at his best performances there is a pattern. The full back beside him plays well and the centre-half beside him is good at the basic art of defending e.g. Bates or Alves. He also plays well when he has good protection in front of him. Is it a coincidence that Wilson’s form improved almost the game Ross McCrorie began sitting in front of the back four?

Wilson is a good centre-half. He isn’t the sort you could build a team around or expect to organise your defence but he has all the attributes required to play at a decent level. He will always have lapses of concentration and make mistakes but on his day, there aren’t many better Scottish centre halves especially with the ball at his feet. Rangers have plenty cover with the ever-improving Bates, a potentially decent Fabio Cardoso, the experienced duo of Alves and Martin and, for me, the best centre-half at the club – Ross McCrorie. The irony is that Martin would probably have been a great partner for Wilson.

It’s always sad to see one of your own leave, especially when they show such potential at a young age but Wilson appears to be leaving with everyone’s best wishes. If he has played his last game for Rangers, a clean sheet away to Celtic isn’t a bad way to bow out, in fact, it’s how I’ll remember his time at the club – what he was capable of when he wasn’t let down by those around him.

Have a nice day, Danny!