Rangers recruit Ross Wilson leaves Southampton with mixed success - can he deliver at Ibrox?

Ross Wilson arrives at Ibrox with Rangers in their best state since the final day of 2010/2011 season when a 5-1 win over Kilmarnock secured the Scottish Premier League title.

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Rangers make Premier League signing as Ross Wilson becomes club's new sporting d...

Steven Gerrard has led the club to the summit of the Scottish Premiership, into the Europa League group stages and has a strong squad at his disposal.

As soon as it was announced last month that Mark Allen, who worked closely with the Liverpool legend, would step down from his director of football position, Wilson was linked with a switch from Southampton.

Ross Wilson had mixed success at Southampton. Picture: SNS
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His name is one which is held in high regard around certain circles within Scottish football. At just 21 he took his first steps in the game with Falkirk.

Now 36, he progressed at the Bairns to earn a move to Watford then Huddersfield Town before being appointed director of scouting and recruitment at Premier League Saints in 2015. He became director of football operations nearly 12 months ago.

His appointment at Ibrox has been celebrated by the club's managing director Stewart Robertson.

"We had no hesitation in looking again to Ross, who is highly regarded within the game," he told Rangers' official website.

Virgil van Dijk was Wilson's big success story.

“He has a terrific track record and he shares our view of what is required to restore Rangers as the dominant force in Scottish football."

However, former Celtic star Kris Commons saw it differently. Yesterday, he used his column in the Mail on Sunday to express his doubts about Wilson's success at Southampton.

"His one big claim to fame is that he signed Virgil van Dijk in the summer of 2015 and made a huge profit in selling him to Liverpool," he wrote. "But, overall, his record is actually quite ropey.

"Southampton have splashed a lot of cash over the past couple of years with no tangible results. They once again look like they'll be in a relegation battle this season.

Mohamed Eloynoussi is seen as a Southampton flop.
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"Listen, if Wilson takes the director of football role at Rangers and signs another Van Dijk, fair play to him. But the jury is still out. He still has a lot to prove as and when he takes the gig at Ibrox."

'Transfer mess'

To say Southampton fans are unfazed by Wilson's departure is an understatement.

One fan tweeted: "Thank you @RossWilson28 we got the best manager we had in a long time and some good young players will never please everyone all the time but from me thanks. Big club decision now and important new contract for Ralph (Hasenhuttl)."

Others were less complimentary.

One posted: "Surprised he still there. Did well early on, as did Les Reed, but most recent signings were absolutely shocking and at ridiculous transfer fees. Carillo, Elyanoussi, Hoedt, Caceres, Juanmi, Gardos, Clasie, and I reluctantly include Lemina."

Another said: "Leaving us with the worst transfer mess in recent decades, if not ever."

Back in March, a thread was started on a Southampton forum with the title: 'Ross Wilson - Why is he still employed by Saints?'

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Wilson arrived at St Mary's Stadium in March 2015 after helping lay foundations at Huddersfield Town which "involved a wholesale building and modernisation of football activities to make them fit for purpose in the Championship following an 11 year absence".

He joined a club on an upward trajectory.

Southampton had won promotion to the Premier League in 2012 before finishes of 14th, 8th and 7th under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman. Wilson's first full season saw the signing of Virgil van Dijk and sixth place - the club's highest league placing since 1985.

Wilson leaves with the club outside the relegation zone on goals scored with 16th and 17th placed finishes in the last two seasons, and plenty of criticism regarding recruitment with a number of expensive mistakes and failures, including Guido Carrillo, Celtic's Mohamed Elyonoussi, Wesley Hoedt and Mario Lemina.

'Something at NASA'

The waste is surprising considering the detailed work which goes into scouting and recruitment with the help of the revered 'black box' which is central to their work behind the scenes.

It is a live database which has been likened to "something at NASA". An abundance of data of players at the club and from around world football are fed in and kept up to date.

It means Southampton are always fine tuning lists, players who they are keen on and who could be signed if one of their own left. In theory it means the club shouldn't be caught short when they need to delve into the transfer market.

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"The list is always evolving and always current," Wilson told Bleacher Report. "We've got to be prepared all the time. There might be a certain position that we don't expect to sign a player for two or three years and then something might happen."

Rangers fans should now expect their club to have a sophisticated scouting approach. At Southampton, Wilson did not look to South America or Africa so the focus will likely on European and British players.

And it won't all be data-led.

"The absolute heart of our scouting and recruitment is our scouts that we have out on the ground," Wilson said of traditional scouting.

The Scot won't simply be focused on scouting. His role will be an overarching one where a number of different departments will report to him. It will be about "raising the standards across the club", as Sam Wallace details in the Telegraph.

He will oversee recruitment, scouting, academy, medical and training ground infrastructure.

A criticism of the club before Steven Gerrard arrived was that there was no holistic approach, a lack of joined up thinking. In the lower leagues there was no forward thinking, then towards the end of Mark Warburton's reign and the short-lived Pedro Caixina era it was clear the club weren't moving forward as one.

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Wilson has said previously: "One of the mistakes many clubs make is they don't commit to a strategy and move the goal posts all the time."

One of the first things Rangers fans will hope is that a new deal is done for Steven Gerrard but Wilson will also be looking at a future beyond the Liverpool legend. He wouldn't be doing his job properly if he wasn't preparing a 'who next?' list for when Gerrard does eventually depart.

It all feeds back to a strategy and structure which will try and limit any upheaval.

Biggest test

It will be in the academy where the most interesting work may take place. At Southampton there was an ambitious plan of having 50 per cent of the matchday squad made up of academy players.

It fed into a “pinning down the south” philosophy as detail in an interview with Gordon Waddell. Due to catchment area rules the club were somewhat limited in which youth players they could recruit. At Rangers, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a more aggressive approach as they seek out the best Scottish players ahead of rivals Celtic.

It becomes more important when you factor in something Wilson said in June 2017. He was of the belief that Southampton knew how football will progress.

There is an expectation that players will need to become even more athletic and even more perceptive.

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"We think we know where the game is going to be in five years' time," he said. "We've mapped out what Southampton looks like, bearing in mind what we think football will look like.

"Our medical and sports science personnel understand the types of players that we need to produce.

"The requirement for players' intelligence levels will be higher, and they will need to be able to deal with different systems - both your own system and what the opposition are doing - changing within games more than they did before."

Wilson arrives with a big reputation and has proven in his career that he can lay foundations, standards and good practice. But, as ever, he will be judged on the final product, the success of the first-team.

He will witness a club at a high. His job will be to help propel them higher. It is the biggest club Wilson has worked at. And his biggest test.