THE sleekness and assurance that Danny Wilson often exudes on the pitch can give him the appearance of a footballing thoroughbred. Rangers will be looking to benefit from the fact that the centre-back is a course and distance winner.
The Championship utterly exposed the myriad deficiencies of an Ibrox side which had been masked in the previous two seasons against part-time teams in the two lowest divisions. The contrast with the demoted Hearts, for whom Wilson was the captain, could hardly have been more acute. Robbie Neilson’s men turned last season’s second tier into a one-horse race.
With the 23-year-old Wilson having now swapped Tynecastle for Ibrox he could prove a valuable sounding board for the new Rangers management team of Mark Warburton and David Weir when it comes to the requirements for succeeding in the Championship.
Wilson may not have used the word humility, but he patently considers that quality was central to the Gorgie club regrouping with aplomb in the modest surrounds to which the club’s financial collapse condemned them. Humility is not a word that would spring to mind when considering the travails of Rangers in recent seasons. Following liquidation, the recast Ibrox institution sought to work their way up the divisions with the very mix of hubris and overspend that precipitated their demise in the first place.
“A strong mentality” is what Wilson suggested was required for a fallen Scottish giant to win the Championship. By that the defender meant the right mentality, too. “Sometimes you go to away grounds and it’s maybe not what teams of the past have been used to,” he said. “You need to get yourself really focused on that. You need to remember that just now we’re a Championship team. We need to embrace that and make sure that, going forward, we show everybody the respect they deserve, put in the work against them and make sure that we can get the right results.”
Last season Hearts provided a masterclass in operating along such lines. “I don’t think there was any magic behind it,” said Wilson when asked why the Tynecastle side could canter to the Championship title while a more expensively assembled Rangers squad finished third. “It was just a simple thing, working hard, being fully prepared for every game that you go into. Know who your opposition is. With the quality that we have at Rangers, we should be winning a lot of games. That doesn’t come from anything other than hard work and preparation. From the brief conversations I’ve had with the manager, he seems to be big on that. Hopefully we can have a good season.”
It’s good to be back. There seems to be a different feel about the placeDanny Wilson
Yet, one aspect that allowed Hearts to come quicker out of the starting gates than rivals Rangers and Hibernian will be denied to a new team that Warburton must assemble over a matter of weeks. “At Hearts we knew for quite a long time that we were going to be relegated the season before. Plans were already in place. It could go either way. Hibs still had a good season last year. If it’s long term or short term preparations, I would hope it’s not too much of a factor.”
Wilson refuses to frame last season’s Championship success by the ease with which it appeared to be achieved.
“I expected a tougher challenge from the league, but that’s not to be disrespectful to the league,” he said. “People say if you put the work in, you get results and that’s what we did. We did a lot of training. We did a lot of work into other teams. I think we just got what we deserved. The club managed to win it by 21 points or something, but even if we won it by one point, it doesn’t matter. We did our work.”
Wilson and Rangers was a combination that worked when he was a teenager graduating to the ranks of senior football. His patriarch of a playing partner Weir had an integral role in that fact. That past does not greatly inform the present for the astute Wilson. “He was a big influence early in my career,” he said. “I’ve not worked here for a long time now. Now it’s a different situation from being a player talking me through things. He’s now an assistant manager. So that relationship changed. It wasn’t too much of a factor in coming here. Even if I didn’t know either of the management team to begin with, I still would have been impressed with what they said to me.
“I’ve only spoken to the manager briefly, but he has a real enthusiasm for his football, a real passion. That’s something that comes across really well with him. It’s something that made me want to come here and play for him.
“It’s good to be back. It feels different to the last time I was here. There seems to be a different feel about the place. With the new manager coming in, there’s real optimism. When I left Hearts, I didn’t really think I would end up back here, but I’m glad I have. When you speak to the manager, you really buy into what he’s saying. I’m just glad to be back and looking forward to the season starting.”