Young, gifted and hungry - but what next for Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson?

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Harry Wilson Bournemouth 2019-20
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The 22-year-old will be at Anfield on Saturday to watch loan club Bournemouth but can he finally force his way into Jurgen Klopp's plans?

He’ll be at Anfield on Saturday but does Harry Wilson’s long-term future lie at Liverpool?

Wilson will watch from the stands as his parent club host his loan club in the lunchtime kick-off. Premier League rules, of course, mean the 22-year-old is ineligible to face the Reds – a sizeable blow to Bournemouth in their fight against relegation.

Wilson, with seven goals, is the Cherries’ joint-top scorer so far this season. In a difficult campaign for the South Coast club, the Welsh international’s performances have been an all-too-rare bright spot.

Good news for Liverpool, too. Having challenged Wilson to show he can cut the mustard in the top flight, that he can continue to develop his all-round game and physical attributes, they have been quietly encouraged by his progress. 

This is his fourth loan spell. The first – at Crewe as an 18-year-old, proved difficult but educational – while the next two – with first Hull and then Derby in the Championship – saw him develop a reputation for impressive numbers and spectacular goals.

He scored seven times in 14 games at Hull before last season hitting 18 goals in 49 outings for a Derby side that fell agonisingly short of promotion to the Premier League. 

“He keeps meeting the challenges that are set for him,” says one Anfield source, although whether it will be enough to force him into Jurgen Klopp’s plans for next season and beyond remains to be seen.

Wilson needs no reminding that, to play for Liverpool, a wide attacker must not only score and create, but work, defend and connect too.  He must, in short, be world class with and without the ball.

“Harry's shooting is world-class,” said Klopp back in December. “Find me five players who shoot better than him. But the game is about more and that is what he has to improve and that is clear. 

“To be involved as an offensive player you have to connect with other players. He has that – it is not like he doesn’t – but to get to the next level, he needs game time at the highest level. That is why we loaned him to Bournemouth.”

Wilson, for his part, has approached each of his loan moves with the right attitude. He admits that his eyes were opened at Crewe, where he struggled to make an impact in a side battling relegation from League One. 

“It taught me a lot of valuable lessons,” he told Goal back in 2018. “It gave me experiences I would never have got by playing academy football.”

So too did his time at Hull and Derby, where the focus was on improving his confidence, off-the-ball work and consistency.

Wilson liaises regularly with Julian Ward, Liverpool’s head of loan pathways and football partnerships, and is known as a conscientious and dedicated professional, willing to listen and open to feedback – good and bad.

Harry Wilson Liverpool 2019

Ward owed him dinner at the end of last season, after challenging Wilson to score 15 goals or more at Derby. The friendly wager was settled well before the end of the campaign. 

There have been no specific targets set this time around, but again the focus has been on continuing that all-round development.

Wilson, a left-footer who plays off the right flank, has been asked to force his way into an established Premier League team, to take responsibility, and to have the confidence to play his game despite the pressures which come with being in the wrong half of the table, playing for precious points.

The moments have continued to come: a spectacular free-kick against Manchester City in August, classy strikes against rivals Southampton and Brighton, two goals off the bench away at Tottenham. 

And this despite a knee injury suffered on international duty with Wales back in November, the impact of which caused a swelling that needed to be drained on more than one occasion. Wilson, with Howe's blessing, returned to Liverpool for treatment in December, but was back in Bournemouth for Christmas and has started all-but-two of their games since. 

The summer brings about a fresh dilemma, both for the player and for Liverpool. Wilson will be 23 later this month, and so far his competitive Reds career has been limited to just 25 minutes as a substitute in an FA Cup replay at Plymouth three years ago. He's done well in pre-season friendlies since, but never managed to earn himself that first-team chance.

It's a different story at international level. He will expect to be part of the Wales squad which will look to make an impact at Euro 2020. He already has 16 caps for his country, and is a firm favourite of manager Ryan Giggs – who knows a thing or two about left-footed wide men.

Meanwhile, there is sure to be interest from elsewhere. Brendan Rodgers at Leicester is a fan, and Burnley and Newcastle are among those who have made checks on his situation.

Liverpool valued him at around £20 million ($26m) last summer, and his price will have only increased since. He still has three years left on his contract, signed in 2018.

He will be given another chance to impress Klopp in pre-season. And for those who say it’s too late for him to make an impact at the very highest level, consider this; when Mohamed Salah moved to Chelsea from Basel, aged 21, he had played 114 professional games and scored 31 goals; when Sadio Mane joined Liverpool from Southampton, aged 24, he had 146 games and 51 goals. 

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And Wilson? He’s on 98 games, with 32 goals. Not bad for a wide player who doesn't possess breath-taking speed.

He may never reach the heights of a Salah or a Mane, of course. Not many do. 

One way or the other, though, Liverpool believe they have an asset on their hands. One they’ll be glad they don’t have to worry about on Saturday.