AS FAR as club ambassadors go, Hearts manager Gary Locke could barely have picked a more credible man than Danny Wilson.
Eyebrows were initially raised in some quarters when the 21-year-old was appointed Hearts captain earlier this week ahead of the three older heads in the squad: Jamie MacDonald (27), Jamie Hamill (26) and Ryan Stevenson (28).
However, after hearing the highly-regarded former Rangers and Liverpool centre-back discuss his reasons for re-signing for a Hearts side hamstrung by administration, a 15-point penalty and a transfer embargo, it is easy to see why Locke felt compelled to name the West Lothian lad as his new captain.
Put simply, Wilson looks the perfect poster boy for Hearts as they prepare to embark on a new era of austerity which they hope will return them to the straight and narrow after the chaotic Vladimir Romanov years led them to the brink of oblivion.
He is young, humble and local for starters. He is not driven by money, as evidenced by the fact he turned down more lucrative offers elsewhere and has taken a significant pay cut to remain with Hearts.
He was also dignity personified as he explained how hard it was to come back to the club knowing that other members of staff had just been made redundant days before.
Perhaps most importantly, for a young man who has already sampled first-team football with Rangers, Liverpool and Scotland, his heart genuinely appears to be with Hearts.
For someone who has been involved at Tynecastle for less than six months – arguably one of the bleakest periods in Hearts’ recent history – it is remarkable that Wilson has developed such a strong bond with the club that he still felt inclined to buy season tickets to help them even when it looked like their lurch into administration had killed off his hopes of signing a contract.
Hearts may have been dragged through the gutter of late, but Wilson’s actions over the past month would suggest the beleaguered Gorgie outfit remains a big draw. “I have really enjoyed being at this club since the day I got here, everyone has been warm and welcoming and I get on well with everyone in the dressing room. I really like the place.
“My family and friends all knew how happy I was here at Hearts and if there was a chance that I could stay, then I would stay. People from the outside looking in might think it’s nuts but I made the commitment a month and a half ago to join Hearts and I bought a house and I’m happy with my team-mates and the manager.
“There was no part of me desperate for a change so I was more than happy to sign. I can understand why some might find it strange but if they were in my shoes maybe they would understand.”
Hearts announced that they had signed Wilson back in May, with the defender insisting he had been given assurances that the club’s future was not in doubt. Yet just weeks later, he was left devastated and in a state of limbo when the club he was due to join entered administration before he had been officially registered. The deal looked dead, but Wilson insists he held no grudge against any of those who had persuaded him to sign.
“It was a strange feeling when I was told the move was off after being unveiled,” he recalls. “I was obviously disappointed because I was looking forward to playing for Hearts but I knew there was a bigger picture with everything that was going on with the club.
“It made it easier to take a step back and realise that while I was disappointed, in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that big a deal. I was lucky enough that there were clubs who had said they were interested in taking me so I was fortunate in that sense, however disappointed I was at that moment that it wasn’t going to be Hearts.
“There were no hard feelings on my part that I had been given assurances by the club when I signed at first, only for them to go into administration. To be fair to the people I’d spoken to, I think they had been given the assurances.
“It’s now quite evident that what they were being told wasn’t true but I don’t blame the people who told me that at the time. When I spoke to the gaffer he actually apologised but he had nothing to apologise for because he was just acting on the information he was given.
“I felt bad for him because he’d been let down and he was trying to recruit a team and had the carpet pulled from under him. The club’s in a different place now, we’re in administration now and know where we are and the club will hopefully be cleansed.”
After resigning himself to finding a new club, Wilson was relieved and delighted when he got wind last week that his perfect move might be back on the cards. “I think John Murray was the man who discovered I was still able to join the club,” he explained. “I didn’t know too much about it but I got a call in the middle of last week saying there was a possibility of it happening and he worked really hard to do all the paperwork and now I’m here I’m glad it’s all sorted.
“I’d been talking to a few other clubs to hear what they had to say because you need to know your options but once I found out there was a chance of coming to Hearts I needed to know all the facts. I took time with it and spoke to my girlfriend and my family and we felt this was the right decision to make. I wasn’t going to rush into anything when I thought there was no chance of coming to Hearts so when the call came from John I was delighted something could be done.”
Already thrilled with this unexpected turn of events, Wilson was given further cause for cheer when he was appointed captain by Locke, a man who himself captained Hearts aged just 20. “The captaincy is a massive honour but we don’t have many senior players on the pitch so no matter who the captain is, everyone has to be a leader on the pitch,” said Wilson. “I’m delighted and I’ll strive to be the best captain I can be. We’re going to have a tough season so we need everyone pulling in the same direction. I was surprised but the manager discussed it and asked how I felt about it. There’s no way you’re going to turn down a captaincy.”
In striving to be a successful Hearts skipper, Wilson will take inspiration from another former Tynecastle defender. David Weir was Wilson’s mentor when he broke through at Rangers as a 17-year-old and evidently made a lasting impression. “I will take bits off everybody, but everyone knows how close I was to Davie Weir when I was coming through at Rangers. I really appreciated the way he made me feel welcome as young boy coming into the team. I see a lot of that here because we have a lot of young players coming through and we need everyone to help them make that transition.”