Liverpool starlet Harry Wilson on Bale, Salah and catching Klopp's eye this summer
What did you get for your 21st birthday?
A nice party, perhaps? Driving lessons, possibly? A trip away with your pals, a new wardrobe, or few hundred quid to spend on yourself?
Whatever it is, Harry Wilson can top it. For his, he got a trip to China, a first international start and a first international goal. He got praise from Ryan Giggs and pictures with Gareth Bale. He got headlines, exposure, experience, memories.
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Many happy returns.
Liverpool’s young winger is enjoying himself right now. It’s been a good few months, both for club and for country. His loan spell with Hull City comes to an end today, but it’s been a productive one. Wilson has seven goals in 13 appearances in the Championship and has been crucial in helping Nigel Adkins’ side secure survival. His performances in April earned him a nomination for EFL Player of the Month. On his 21st, back in March, he scored for Wales in China. He’s flying.
“It’s gone brilliantly,” he says. “It was something I wanted to do, something I needed to do, and I am glad I did it. I couldn’t have asked for much more really.”
When Wilson sits down to speak exclusively to Goal , he has just suffered a setback. His Hull side have just been beaten 2-0 at home by a Cardiff side heading for promotion. The game, a war of attrition featuring long balls, second balls and tough tackles, was far from a classic. Neil Warnock's side are not the kind who allow flair players such as Wilson the time and space to shine.
Still, it represents a rare bump in his development. Since moving to the KCOM Stadium in January, the talented left-footer has been on a strictly upward curve. He’s scoring, creating and shining. Giggs, Wales’ new manager, has noticed and so has Bale, his hero.
The hope is that Jurgen Klopp has too.
“I had a sit down with the manager at the beginning of January,” Wilson says. “I told him I felt I was ready for senior football, but with the first-team doing so well, with Salah and Mane scoring and assisting for fun, I knew it was going to be difficult for me to get in.
“I wanted to prove to a few people that I was able to do it in men’s football. The manager told me he likes me as a player and I was involved in the training group at Melwood, but I wanted to go out and get some games.
“I felt I was ready and the manager agreed. He’s great like that, whenever you talk to him he listens and gives you good advice. I felt comfortable speaking to him, which is important for a young player.”
Still, there must have been some regret given the way Liverpool’s season has panned out since he left. With injuries biting, Klopp has been forced to turn to younger players to flesh out his squad and training groups. Curtis Jones, 17, and Rama Camacho, 18, were part of the travelling party which went to Rome for the Champions League semi-final this week, while those two, plus Conor Masterson, were on the bench for the recent Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Had he stayed, Wilson could well have had his chance at Anfield.
“Yeah, I have thought that," he admits. “But you can’t have everything.
“Of course you look at the young lads on the bench for the derby, the likes of [Dominic] Solanke starting that game, and think maybe that could have been me.
“But then would I have got my Wales call up, would I have scored for my country had I stayed? I wouldn’t have had goals and assists in the Championship, would I? I wouldn’t be getting talked about positively, as I am now.
“It was the right decision for me, I needed it and I think the minutes I’ve played will be valuable for me, for pre-season and beyond.”
It promises to be a crucial summer for Wilson. Liverpool have a tour of the USA scheduled in July, just a week after the World Cup finishes. The Reds’ international stars – Salah, Firmino and co – will be missing, giving chances for the likes of Wilson, who has moved ahead of Sheyi Ojo and Ryan Kent, fellow young wingers out on loan in the Championship, with his performances over the last few months.
“It’s big for me,” he says. “That was the frustration last season to be honest. I picked up an Achilles injury and it stopped me from expressing myself in pre-season.
“This year, I want to get on that tour, I want to get in the manager’s mind, train hard, train well, stay fit. If I do, then hopefully I’ll get my chance. If not, we’ll sit down and discuss our options.”
Those options are likely to be plentiful. Hull have already asked about keeping Wilson for next season, while the likes of Aston Villa have been in touch too. It would be a surprise if Rangers, where Steven Gerrard is manager and Michael Beale, who made Wilson captain of Liverpool’s U23 side, is on the coaching staff, did not express an interest too.
Liverpool, though, is where Wilson sees himself. He knows that sounds ambitious – especially when his natural position is on the right flank, Salah’s spot – but since when has aiming high been a bad thing? Wilson says he plays better with better players - "you can do things without thinking because you know they will read it, they will be there, they will give you the ball back."
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“As a Liverpool fan, to see him and Mane scoring pretty much every game is great,” he smiles. “But as a player, I want to be in that team!
“But I’d like to make myself that backup player for them, or that replacement if they have a knock or whatever. It sounds like a big aim, but why not? I want to play for Liverpool in the Premier League on a regular basis, I will never deny that.”
His confidence is refreshing, and reflects his growth over the past 18 months. Wilson is a player enlivened by his first ‘proper’ taste of senior football.
His previous loan spell, a couple of months at Crewe as an 18-year-old back in 2016, was a disappointment. He made just three starts and, it is fair to say, felt little of the support and encouragement he has experienced at Hull.
Two years on, though, he is able to reflect on the experiences at Gresty Road as character-building, critical.
“It taught me a lot of valuable lessons,” he says, “It gave me experiences that I would never have got by playing Academy football.
“I learned that in senior football it’s about managing the game. People are playing for contracts and playing for careers, so when you’re 1-0 up or 2-0 up, you have to see the game out.
“In Academy football, you’re getting told to play pretty much every time. When you come here you’re playing for three points rather than the performance. That was a massive thing to learn for me. At Hull, I’ve had that in my mind from the word go.”
It’s showed. Wilson arrived at a club threatened by relegation, but has been key as Hull have moved into a position of comfort. Players who can create and score, he has found, are huge at any level.
“Numbers have always been massive to me,” he says. “I was told at an early age that if you affect the game, and if your numbers are good in terms of goals, assists, chances created, the manager finds it hard to bring you off or to not involve you.
“I pride myself on that. Even if the team is not doing well and I can still pop up with a goal or an assist, then I’m making a difference.”
The aim, then, is to do so for Liverpool and for Wales in the future. Wilson tells a story from Euro 2016, where he travelled as a fan to watch his country play Slovakia in Bordeaux.
“To see them on that stage only made me hungrier,” he says. “I loved being around the fans and watching the lads. It was an incredible experience.”
But here comes the key question. Was he recognised?
“No, no,” he smiles. “I had a hat on!”
He won’t be able to get away with that again, one imagines. If he carries on as he has been, he better get used to the spotlight.