When a prodigious 16-year-old took to the field in the 87th minute of a World Cup qualifier between Belgium and Wales, he not only smashed records and pledged his international future; he also had expectation heaped onto his young shoulders.
After all, how many kids of 16 become full internationals. The last one before Harry Wilson for Wales was a certain Gareth Bale (who was 100-odd days older than Wilson when he debuted) and even messrs Owen and Sterling never took to the international stage until 17.
That though, was just over five years ago now and things have not exactly been easy for Harry Wilson at club level. Now 21, Wilson has made the grand total of 34 senior appearances (as of writing) and, of that, the only appearance he’s made in a red shirt was a half-hour cameo in an FA Cup tie at Plymouth.
So, why are Liverpool fans begging for him to be included in the first team next season? Is Harry Wilson the next Academy success story? That’s what we’re looking at here:
The Experience Is Little But The Results…
34 senior appearances isn’t a lot to go off when we look closer at Wilson but early international recognition and the fact that Liverpool kept offering him new deals spoke volumes about the potential he has.
His earliest taste of first-team football was for about three months at League One Crewe, where he got his first nine senior appearances. Nothing much of note really other than an early recall as Liverpool players began to drop like injured flies during the Christmas period of 2015.
Pre-season tours and that brief cameo at Plymouth aside, there was precious little first-team action for Wilson. His chance came in late January 2018 when Hull City, struggling post-relegation from the top flight, brought the Welshman in on loan.
It was an inspired move.
Wilson immediately made a difference to a Hull side still wearing the hangover from relegation badly. He was let loose and repaid the trust with excellent performances. 7 goals and 3 assists in 13 league games tells its own story but it’s the statistics that really back up the impression he made.
Wilson averaged 2.2 shots per game, 1.5 dribbles per game and 1.1 key passes per game. He was certainly not afraid to take the game to the opposition while wearing the gold and black stripes and that kind of production saw him back into the Wales side to add to his five minutes at 16.
With Hull away from relegation worries, Wilson won PFA Player of the Month in April for the Championship and the end of the season saw him named Liverpool’s Academy Player of the Season despite only spending the first half of the season there!
That prompted a new five-year deal this past summer and a loan move to Frank Lampard’s Derby County. This would be a different test for Wilson. While still in the Championship, much was expected from Derby considering the names within their squad. Lampard also spoke of using a possession-based system with an emphasis on pressing to win the ball back. Would Wilson be able to adapt?
The short answer is a resounding yes.
The Lampard effect has certainly taken hold at Derby and Wilson is just one of many who are impressing at Pride Park. Lampard’s emphasis on passing is clear to see in Wilson’s game as his dribbles per game have dramatically reduced from 1.5 at Hull to 0.4 per game this season. However, his key passes have gone up (1.1 to 1.5 this season) while the success of his passes has also risen considerably (74% at Hull to 82.7%).
There has been a marked drop in Wilson’s production in front of goal, however. In 10 league appearances this season, Wilson has only managed 2 goals and a solitary assist. Now, this would sometimes be a warning sign yet, in Wilson’s case, it is merely a product of the system he is in. At Hull, much of the play went through him. He averaged 28.4 passes a game and was usually their main goal threat. Under Lampard, Wilson only averages 25.5 passes per game meaning that the play is more evenly spread between other attacking players.
It shows defensively too. At Hull, he averaged 1.1 tackles per game. At Derby, that number has more than doubled to 2.3. At Hull, he averaged 0.6 clearances per game. At Derby, that number has shrunk to 0.2, a product of the system Lampard employs.
That final statistic and the passing ones all point to possibly the best thing about Harry Wilson in the eyes of Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool FC – discipline. Wilson had plenty of reason to get big-headed after his international bow. He could have easily demanded a move to somewhere for more money or first-team football. Instead, he was patient and worked hard to improve so that when the time came to play, he was ready to hit the ground running.
In nine months in 2018, Harry Wilson has played for two different clubs with two different managers who have two different styles with two different targets. It would be easy to say that he would have to adjust. Instead, Wilson has got his head down and adapted with ease. It’s a testament to his character that he’s thrived in two completely alien environments in such a short space of time.
Is Harry Wilson the future at Liverpool? I’d err on the side of caution.
As we’re seeing with Cardiff and Huddersfield this season, there are those who are Championship level players and thrive in that league. And for now, Harry Wilson is in that category as we have nothing else to work off.
However, I certainly can imagine him at a side like Burnley or Bournemouth next season in the Premier League and tearing it up for them. That’s because of his attitude and his ability to adapt and work hard to be the best he can be as evidenced by his amazing rise this calendar year.
For now, it’s too early to say for sure that he will be a regular for Liverpool but I can confidently say one thing: he’s going to be wearing red for a while.