Tommy Wilson helping grow the game in United States

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Tommy Wilson and Ally McCoist
Tommy Wilson (left) worked as a coach at Rangers under first team manager Ally McCoist (right)

Tommy Wilson recently invited an old friend to his new place of work.

David Moyes was passing through Philadelphia as part of a holiday and accepted the offer to visit Wilson and the youth players at Philadelphia Union's academy.

"He was shocked by the level of understanding they had for the Premier League and the leagues in Europe," Wilson said.

The knowledge comes from access to television coverage, but also a growing enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the game.

Wilson used to visit the United States during the close seasons of his playing career, often helping Bobby Clark, the former Aberdeen goalkeeper who is now one of the leading college coaches in America.

He has seen the game grow, to the point where it is now among the leading participation sports in the US and routine MLS games will see 45,000-seat stadia sold out.

Philadelphia Union take to the field
Philadelphia Union are one of the MLS clubs enjoying a huge increase in fan numbers at games

Philadelphia Union are one of the newer franchises, having earned their place in the top-flight in 2010, but the recruitment of Wilson as the academy director last year was a reflection of the club's ambitions.

The owners - Keystone Sports & Entertainment - want the club to develop world-class players through their academy, and handed the direct responsibility to Wilson when they offered him the opportunity to leave Rangers and emigrate.

Wilson was the Ibrox club's academy technical director and reserve team coach, but Rangers were also still in the midst of one of their recurring periods of upheaval, so the chance seemed too good for Wilson to turn down.

"I [had been] able to see first-hand the rise of the game over here," Wilson said. "Portland sell out 45,000 nearly every game, Seattle the same.

"Our stadium holds 18,000 and just about every game it's full, so there's something going on over here."

Iain Munro, the former Dunfermline, Dundee, Hamilton, St Mirren and Raith Rovers manager, was in charge of the coaching programmes for younger children, but it was Wilson who was tasked with building the structures, setting the values and vision, and developing the coaches for the academy.

Chelsea youth chief Dermot Drummy
Tommy Wilson spoke at a coaching conference in Barbados alongside Chelsea youth chief Dermot Drummy (left)

Having helped lead the Scotland Under-20 team to the World Cup finals in Canada in 2007 and the Scotland Under-19 side to the European Championships in Poland the previous year, when they lost the final 2-1 to Spain, Wilson was considered "one of the world's leading experts in youth soccer development" according to Philadelphia Union when they appointed him.

He would never be so boastful, but Wilson is highly considered enough in his field to have been invited to speak at the recent Soccerex panel in Barbados with Dermot Drummy, Chelsea's head of international coaching, and at the Aspire conference in Paris.

Philadelphia's academy was also voted the best on the east coast by US Soccer, despite only being one year old.

Moving to work in America has provided an opportunity to put all of his theories into practice, but also allowed Wilson to expand his horizons.

He is now in charge of 30 coaches and 60 youth academy pupils, 50 of whom are educated at a local school. Wilson oversees a sports psychology department, an athletic training programme, video analysts, and sports scientists, all of which are typical at the academies of leading European clubs.

Tommy Wilson with Jordan Wilson after Rangers won the reserve league title in 2013
Tommy Wilson with Jordan Wilson after Rangers won the reserve league title in 2013

"The owner really wants us to learn and challenge ourselves, so I've been fortunate to visit academies in all corners of the world," Wilson said. "I've been to Dortmund and Schalke, and AZ in Holland, Feyenoord, we have a partnership with Hoffenheim, and I've been to Bayern.

"Facilities are not at the same level as they are back home. That needs to improve, as does the overall standard of coaching, but in terms of the sheer volume of players, my catchment area is a 75-mile circle, and there are 11m people in there. That's twice the size of Scotland."

Wilson has settled in Philadelphia, although still misses many aspects of Scottish life and British football, but his family still pine for elements of home. He has watched events unfold at Ibrox with a sense of sadness and regret, since he knows the individuals still working in the youth set-up and the extent of their efforts.

He is heartened, though, by the recent academy set-up established by the SFA, under Mark Wotte's guidance, to refocus youth development.

Tommy Wilson played for Dunfermline Athletic during his playing career
Tommy Wilson played for Dunfermline Athletic during his playing career

"It's a great job, but it's difficult for my family to settle here," Wilson said. "I was born and brought up in Glasgow, and lived there until I moved here. You miss some of the cultural stuff. I was going to say you miss the Old Firm game, but there's not been one since I left.

"Our academy played Red Bull recently and it reminded me of when our academy played Celtic, the rivalry, but not to the same extent.

"I can see when I worked with the Scottish national team that we weren't resourced anywhere like the boys are resourced just now, and we had some great success with the group.

"When I was a younger coach growing up through the system, they used to say, 'we know what to do, we just don't do it, we don't have the resources'. That's not the case now, we have the structures in place and they're starting to bear some fruit."

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