This player analysis first featured on our network site, liverpoolfchq.com.
When a prodigious 16-year-old took to the field in the 87th minute of a World Cup qualifier between Belgium and Wales, he not only smashed records and pledged his international future; he also had expectation heaped onto his young shoulders.
After all, how many kids of 16 become full internationals. The last one before Harry Wilson for Wales was a certain Gareth Bale (who was 100-odd days older than Wilson when he debuted) and even messrs Owen and Sterling never took to the international stage until 17.
That, though, was just over five years ago now and things have not exactly been easy for Harry Wilson at club level. Now 21, Wilson has made the grand total of 34 senior appearances (as of writing) and, of that, the only appearance he’s made in a red shirt was a half-hour cameo in an FA Cup tie at Plymouth.
So, why are Liverpool fans begging for him to be included in the first team next season? How is Harry Wilson doing at Derby County? Let’s take a look:
The Experience Is Little But The Results…
34 senior appearances isn’t a lot to go off when we look closer at Wilson but early international recognition and the fact that Liverpool kept offering him new deals spoke volumes about the potential he has.
His earliest taste of first-team football was for about three months at League One Crewe, where he got his first nine senior appearances. Nothing much of note really other than an early recall as Liverpool players began to drop like injured flies during the Christmas period of 2015.
Pre-season tours and that brief cameo at Plymouth aside, there was precious little first-team action for Wilson. His chance came in late January 2018 when Hull City, struggling post-relegation from the top flight, brought the Welshman in on loan.
It was an inspired move.
Wilson immediately made a difference to a Hull side still wearing the hangover from relegation badly. He was let loose and repaid the trust with excellent performances. 7 goals and 3 assists in 13 league games tells its own story but it’s the statistics that really back up the impression he made.
Wilson averaged 2.2 shots per game, 1.5 dribbles per game and 1.1 key passes per game. He was certainly not afraid to take the game to the opposition while wearing the gold and black stripes and that kind of production saw him back into the Wales side to add to his five minutes at 16.
With Hull away from relegation worries, Wilson won PFA Player of the Month in April for the Championship and the end of the season saw him named Liverpool’s Academy Player of the Season despite only spending the first half of the season there!
That prompted a new five-year deal this past summer and a loan move to Frank Lampard’s Derby County. This would be a different test for Wilson. While still in the Championship, much was expected from Derby considering the names within their squad. Lampard also spoke of using a possession-based system with an emphasis on pressing to win the ball back. Would Wilson be able to adapt?
The short answer is a resounding yes.
The Lampard effect has certainly taken hold at Derby and Wilson is just one of many who are impressing at Pride Park. Lampard’s emphasis on passing is clear to see in Wilson’s game as his dribbles per game have dramatically reduced from 1.5 at Hull to 0.4 per game this season. However, his key passes have gone up (1.1 to 1.5 this season) while the success of his passes has also risen considerably (74% at Hull to 82.7%).
There has been a marked drop in Wilson’s production in front of goal, however. In 10 league appearances this season, Wilson has only managed 2 goals and a solitary assist. Now, this would sometimes be a warning sign yet, in Wilson’s case, it is merely a product of the system he is in. At Hull, much of the play went through him. He averaged 28.4 passes a game and was usually their main goal threat. Under Lampard, Wilson only averages 25.5 passes per game meaning that the play is more evenly spread between other attacking players.
It shows defensively too. At Hull, he averaged 1.1 tackles per game. At Derby, that number has more than doubled to 2.3. At Hull, he averaged 0.6 clearances per game. At Derby, that number has shrunk to 0.2, a product of the system Lampard employs.
In nine months in 2018, Harry Wilson has played for two different clubs with two different managers who have two different styles with two different targets. It would be easy to say that he would have to adjust. Instead, Wilson has got his head down and adapted with ease. It’s a testament to his character that he’s thrived in two completely alien environments in such a short space of time.
In a league as competitive and delicate as the Championship, that kind of attitude and malleability is something which has proven vital for Frank Lampard’s Derby.
The short answer to the question I posed near the start of this piece is very well.
Wilson has taken to Derby County just as easily as he did Hull City back at the tail end of 2017/18. While there is less of a reliance on him at Derby than at Hull, he has still given his absolute best to the Rams, diligently doing whatever Lampard asks of him tactically and still having the confidence and ability to produce moments of magic as well.
It’s clear that the Championship is the perfect learning ground for Wilson this season and, at Derby, he’s found the perfect side in which to learn. If Derby continue on the way they are then they will certainly be in the mix for promotion to the Premier League which gives Wilson more chances to impress.
Either way, whether it be with a promoted Derby, Liverpool or elsewhere, it is safe to say that we won’t be seeing Harry Wilson at Championship level in 2019/20.