Mark Wilson: Dundee United need young guns to stay

EIGHT days from now, Mark Wilson hopes to be part of a Dundee United side which lifts the Scottish Cup in what he ­believes would be a fitting ­conclusion to a season in which their crop of young players have regularly lit up the game.

Andrew Robertson, left, and Ryan Gauld  celebrate their Scottish Cup victory over Rangers at Ibrox. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Andrew Robertson, left, and Ryan Gauld celebrate their Scottish Cup victory over Rangers at Ibrox. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

But the veteran full-back also believes the occasion could serve as a farewell to Scottish football for burgeoning talent such as Andrew Robertson, John ­Souttar, Ryan Gauld and Stuart Armstrong.

The quartet have all been linked with English Premier League clubs over the course of the campaign. Firm interest in some of them is anticipated during the summer and while Wilson would prefer to see his team-mates stay at Tannadice for at least another season, he accepts that United chairman Stephen Thompson may look to strike while the iron is hot.

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“It can be really difficult for clubs to knock back serious ­offers,” said Wilson. “Of course it would be good for our young boys to stay at United, but it’s hard for chairmen to say they want to keep them for another year.

“From a chairman’s perspective, who’s to say these boys are not a flash in the pan, that they go off the boil and are out of the team next season? So it’s a touchy subject. It would be good for the players, for United and for the Scottish Premiership if they stayed a bit longer.

“But it’s very difficult when money gets offered and ­contracts get put in front of young guys that are three or four times their current wages.

“For any young player ­coming through in Scotland, playing down south is their ambition. I think they would be lying if they said it wasn’t.

“Everyone wants to do well at the club they’re at and the club that’s brought them through. But there comes a point when they move on and for these young guys, it would be great to see them play at a higher level one day. They could maybe go to Celtic and play Champions League football, they could maybe go to Rangers, or maybe to England to play in the ­Premier League against the best players in the world.

“There has been so much said and written about them this season and I think it’s fitting they’ve reached a cup final, to showcase their talents. It’s ­important they grasp their opportunity and make the most of it.”

Although his form dipped after an exceptional start to the season, Gauld, 18, is still Wilson’s pick of the United bunch.

“Ryan is the best I’ve seen at that age,” he added. “When I was at Celtic, I saw Shaun Maloney, Aiden McGeady and James ­Forrest coming through. They are fantastic players who have already achieved much in the game, but Ryan will surpass them if he keeps progressing the way he is.”

Wilson believes much of the credit for Gauld and his fellow prospects at United should go to manager Jackie McNamara.

“I was surprised he wasn’t nominated for Manager of the Year,” said Wilson. “I think they name it a bit too soon. He has come in to United at a time when it was a real test for him.The wage bill had been cut and he had a lot of players to shift.

“He gave a lot of young ­players their chance. Maybe other managers would have put them in for one or two games, then brought them back out, but he had the confidence to stick with them.

“The football Jackie encourages United to play has been a breath of fresh air for Scottish football. It is fitting for him to be in the cup final this season, especially going back to Celtic Park for it. He truly deserves it.” Wilson was back at school yesterday, promoting tonight’s TSB under-18 Senior Shield final between his alma mater, St Ambrose High School in Coatbridge, and Springburn Academy which takes place at New Douglas Park. The 29-year-old was impressed by the change in environment at the modern St Ambrose.

“I was at the old school when it was down the road and it’s a wee bit sad to see it reduced to rubble,” said Wilson. “But I never had facilities like they have here and the school team never got near the final when I played. I think school football still has a big role to play in the ­Scottish game. A lot of boys drop out too soon, chasing a dream that’s not quite there.

“I dropped out at 16, went full-time and was lucky enough to make a career out of football. But the ones who stay on longer, because they want an education behind them as well, have their heads screwed on. Looking back, now that I’m almost 30, I wish I had done the same, even though I was fortunate enough to make something of it.

“Now I am doing a bit of part-time education myself and I wish I would have stayed on a bit longer when I was at school. I’m doing an Open University course, trying to gain a history degree, just in my spare time. I’ve got maybe four or five years left as a footballer, so it’s probably the right thing to do, to get ­myself into something else.”

With midfielder Stuart Armstrong currently studying for a law degree in his spare time, United are challenging the stereotype of footballers’ brains being firmly in their feet.

“Stuart is a very intelligent lad, he has his head screwed on,” added Wilson. “But the way he is playing, I don’t think he will need his law degree. Once he goes to the English Premier League, he will have enough cash to put his feet up when he ­finishes playing.”