Rangers chief Ross Wilson says sporting directors are way forward in Scotland
Call it by whatever title you like – and Ross Wilson has gone by several monikers already in his career – but its value and relevance has long been regarded by many around these parts with unbridled cynicism.
After eight years in English football, where he was Football Business Director at Watford, Head of Football Operations at Huddersfield Town and, most recently Director of Football Operations at Southampton, Wilson has returned to his homeland where his career began as a very youthful Head of Football Development at Falkirk.
Still only 36, his appointment as Mark Allen’s replacement at Rangers thrusts him into his highest profile role yet as he looks to support and enhance manager Steven Gerrard’s bid to restore the Ibrox club as a trophy-winning force.
Wilson is confident the presence of a sporting director is now firmly on course to be as commonplace in Scotland as it is in most other European leagues.
“I genuinely don’t feel that (scepticism) in England anymore,” he said. “The role feels embedded in England and Europe in the way big clubs, and some not so big clubs, work.
“I’ve only just come back over the border, so I don’t know what the view of it is here. But I hope we can have the view that it becomes embedded in Scottish football as well.
“I always find these questions difficult because I’ve never had any issue with it during my time in England, from when I started at Watford and had a really strong relationship with Sean Dyche, right through the relationships I had with the managers at Huddersfield and Southampton.
“The continental managers are used to that relationship anyway, from Ronald Koeman right through to Ralph Hasenhuttl at the end of my time at Southampton.
“I think if you said to Ronald or Ralph they were going to work without a sporting director, they would think you were off your head.
“I’ve never seen any resistance towards the role from managers or coaches whatsoever, although I get that it might be different in Scotland.
“It’s already become the norm across Europe. In many clubs, there are a group of people doing the job, not just one. For Scottish football, it could be part of the journey up here. Hearts have had the model in place for some time and are looking to take a little different turn with it now.
“Hibernian and Dundee United are also working like that, Celtic are working in a similar way. So, I’m sure it will become embedded in Scottish football as it is everywhere else.”
Prior to Rangers appointing Allen as director of football in the summer of 2017, Wilson turned down their approach and chose to remain at Southampton. But he feels the time is now right to leave the English Premier League for the fresh challenge offered at Ibrox.
“I hope people who have worked with me understand that one of my values is loyalty and I was only two-and-a-bit years into my time at Southampton when Rangers first approached me,” he added.
“I felt I owed loyalty to the people I worked with and for and it wasn’t the right moment for me to leave Southampton, where I had a wonderful job and an impossible one to leave at that moment in time.
“It was a difficult decision to not come to Rangers a couple of years ago. There was a blank sheet of paper here at the time to try to help rebuild the football club. There had been difficult times before that and Mark Allen took the job and has laid a lot of strong foundations, so thanks to him for that.
“The biggest part of me understanding the future here was knowing that everyone is on the same page as to what this role looks like.
“I do understand that many clubs view it differently. I came from a place where it was absolutely clear and I had absolute confidence in the people I was working with.
“It would have been difficult for me to step out of that without knowing the club I was joining had a real clarity about what this role is. The board are absolutely clear about where they want to go and the importance of this role in that.”
Prior to his appointment last month, Wilson held talks with Gerrard in order to ensure they shared similar vision and ambitions.
“It’s one of the most important relationships at a club and something that’s really important to me,” he added.
“I have had strong relationships with all the managers that I’ve worked with in football so far. Before I accepted the job, it was really important that Steven and I had a really clear chat in terms of how I saw the role and how he saw the role.
“I have to say we are absolutely on the same page. The relationship has been excellent so far. I have really enjoyed working with him so far but clearly you develop a relationship over a longer period of time rather than one or two weeks.”