HE HAS already experienced Champions League football with Rangers, played in the Europa League with Liverpool and been capped by Scotland, but Danny Wilson says his career is only just getting started.
On loan at Hearts after failing to hold down a first-team place at Anfield since signing in 2010, he says that while it was a frustrating time for him, he has no regrets about joining the English Premier League club, maintaining it advanced his football development and that he is returning to the SPL as a better player.
He has also scoffed at the notion that the years in England could be construed as lost years by some. “I think that is unfair,” says the defender. “Because of how early I broke into the Rangers team, a lot of people are confused about how old I am and think I’m about 24 when I’ve just turned 21. So I’ve still got time on my side; I’ve still 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.”
Despite breaking into the Rangers first team as a 17-year-old, winning the Scottish Young Player of the Year award in his debut season, Wilson found it hard to impress at Anfield, failing to take his appearances tally into double figures and unable to accrue any first-team game time under current boss Brendan Rogers.
“The first-choice central defenders are [Daniel] Agger and [Martin] Skrtel. On top of that you’ve got Jamie Carragher, a Liverpool legend, and Sebastian Coates, who has already won the Copa America at 22 years of age. 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.
“I didn’t really have any low points. I enjoyed every minute I was there. I was training with quality players and played in some big games. I played in the Europa League and in a couple of games in the Premier League, so I enjoyed it all and I don’t have a bad word to say about Liverpool. I have no regrets. You make decisions in your life and you have to stand by them.”
Accepting that he is highly unlikely to be offered a contract extension when the current deal expires in the summer, he is determined to use the six month loan stint at Hearts as a way of kick-starting the next chapter of his career and hopefully finding a way of catching the eye of new Scotland boss, Gordon Strachan.
“It’s probably going to be difficult for me to break into that [Liverpool] team, as it has been. So I’m just taking these next few months as they come, playing as many games as I can.
“Hearts have given me the opportunity to play football – and that’s what I need just now. You never know what is around the corner in football but, first and foremost, I need to be playing here and playing well.”
Deputising for captain Marius Zaliukas, he made his debut for the capital club at Celtic Park on Saturday. This weekend he is in the squad for the League Cup semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“It’s been a frustrating couple of years and I’m just happy to be back out there although, obviously, Saturday wasn’t the best performance from us but I was delighted to be in action again.
“Liverpool treated me very well and I was learning – and I was happy for that. But now is the time when I need to be out playing regular football. Now, I just need to put what I’ve learned into practice. I’m looking forward to doing that.
“I’m throwing myself right in. I knew these massive games were coming up and I feel lucky that I have signed in time to play in them, but there are also other players here who are capable of coming in so I need to make sure I do well in training and put myself in the picture for the weekend.
“I look after myself off the pitch so it’s not as if I am out of shape in any way. I will need to play to get to 100 per cent match fitness, but these great games are the best way to get there and I certainly won’t be a passenger.”
The last time he was involved in Scottish football he was able to rely on the experience of his central defensive partner, Davie Weir. At Hearts, though, experienced players are at a premium.
“There are still experienced players here, but maybe not to same degree. I know Andy Webster and he’s an experienced player. I know him from Rangers and he is a big character in the dressing room. He gets everybody going but I think we all need to take responsibility. You can’t just have one or two. It needs to be a team thing. Everybody has to be together.”
Hearts have also been linked with Liverpool’s Michael Ngoo. “I know Michael very well,” said Wilson. “He is a centre forward who is 6ft 6in tall. He’s strong, quick and has a good touch. He is in a similar boat to me in that he’s at Liverpool but is maybe not going to get an opportunity. It would be good for him to get out and sample some first-team football. He’s a good player and a great guy.”