AFTER training every day with Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and other Liverpool luminaries, Danny Wilson really ought to be a bit more arrogant. That he isn’t is testament to the sensible, mature attitude which took him to one of the world’s biggest clubs as a teenager. He will take the same unpretentious approach to life at Hearts.
Last weekend’s debut at Celtic Park is followed this Saturday by a Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final. Wilson is drastically short of match action having been surplus to Brendan Rodgers’ requirements at Liverpool, yet he is more than prepared for what Billy McKay and Inverness Caledonian Thistle will throw at him at Easter Road. When you’ve faced up to the likes of Gerrard, Suarez and Fernando Torres and survived, little fazes you.
Joining Hearts on loan was a decision the 21-year-old didn’t need to debate. After two-and-a-half years of sporadic first-team action in England, it was time to play. And time to put into practice what he learned each day training at Melwood against some of the world’s most talented footballers.
“You see them playing every week in the Premier League so you know you’re playing against quality players and you need to up your game yourself,” said Wilson. “Obviously people will look to guys like Suarez and Gerrard and say ‘you’ve trained with them so you should know a bit more’. I think I can learn from any footballer.
“Every day you should learn something. I can learn things at Hearts from young players to older players. I was in the fortunate position where I was learning from players of that quality at Liverpool. I didn’t find it daunting.
“As a footballer, you want to be testing yourself against players like Suarez and Gerrard. You need to back yourself against these guys because if you stand in awe of them then you’re going to suffer. I just tried to go in and play my game and learn from theirs at the same time.
“I think I’m better equipped now. If you’re pushing yourself to play at that level then it can only be good for you. Scottish football is different and there are different traits. I’m going to have to adapt to that again because it’s a different league from England, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Wilson maintains he gave little thought to the national cup semi-final approaching when he agreed to his six-month loan at Hearts. “Every footballer wants to play in big games and we have one on Saturday but this is more about the opportunity for me to play regular football,” he continued. “I didn’t look at Hearts and think, ‘I’ll go there because there’s a semi-final coming up’. Hearts is a big club and they’ve shown faith in me by saying they want me to come and play here. That was the main draw for me. I’m hoping that over the next few weeks and months I can repay the faith shown in me by the manager.”
His Liverpool contract expires this summer and he does not expect to return to Anfield. “I don’t think so. It’s probably going to be difficult for me to break into that team, as it has been. So I’m just taking these next few months as they come, playing as many games as I can.
“I was just unable to break into the Liverpool team. The two first-choice central defenders at the moment are (Daniel) Agger and (Martin) Skrtel. On top of that you’ve got Jamie Carragher, who is a Liverpool legend, and Sebastian Coates, who has already won the Copa America at 22 years of age. So it’s difficult and it was always going to be difficult. I wasn’t able to break into the team but bigger and better players than me have gone to Liverpool and found the same, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Indeed, Wilson is proud of his time at Anfield and scoffs at any suggestion he merely treaded water there after leaving Rangers aged 18. “Because of how early I broke into the Rangers team, a lot of people are confused about how old I am,” he said. “A lot of people think I’m about 24 when I’ve just turned 21.
“So I’ve still got time on my side, still got plenty of years ahead of me. It’s not as if I’m coming to the end of my career. As I see it, this is just the beginning. I’m looking forward to it.”
Wilson’s in-depth knowledge of Liverpool could be utilised by Hearts should they decide to move for the Merseyside club’s reserve striker, Michael Ngoo, before the January transfer window closes. Ngoo’s name is on Hearts’ shortlist of potential loan targets from England and Wilson believes he could thrive in the Scottish Premier League if given the opportunity. “I know Michael very well,” explained the defender. “He’s a centre-forward who is very tall. He’s strong, he’s quick and he’s got a good touch. He is in a similar boat to me in that he’s at Liverpool and maybe not going to get an opportunity.
“It would be good for him to get out and sample some first-team football and see how he does. He is a good player. He can handle himself because he’s a big guy. You’re never going to know how you’ll handle yourself until you’re playing first-team football against big centre-halves, but he is more than capable.”
It’s quite clear how Wilson will handle himself now he’s back in Scotland. He intends to remain unflustered whatever happens – an approach which helped him survive daily confrontations with the world’s best at Liverpool.