Southampton director of scouting Ross Wilson has humble roots

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Ross Wilson during his time at Falkirk
Ross Wilson joined Southampton from Huddersfield Town

There have been dramas and difficult choices along the way, but Ross Wilson's journey has taken him to the summit of the British game.

If there was a moment when the sheer scale of his progress was emphasised, it might have been during the summer, when he met the Southampton manager Ronald Koeman for the first time.

"I was taken aback by Ronald because he's so low ego," the club's new director of scouting and recruitment reflects.

"He is a legend of the game."

Wilson has never played football to any significant level and graduated in social sciences at Strathclyde University. Yet he is representative of a growing trend in football, with clubs beginning to acknowledge that leading positions are not the sole domain of former players.

"There will be some clubs steeped in the tradition that you do need to have played the game, but fortunately the club's I've been at, the mindset has been very open," Wilson says.

Each stop on the road has been a reward for his ability, passion and intelligence, qualities that Southampton prized enough to take the 32-year-old to the Premier League from Huddersfield Town.

Beginning as a Bairn

Wilson started out at Falkirk, where in effect he stumbled into a career in football. A friend's father worked for the media department and needed reports on the under-18 team's games. There was no looking back, and particularly not after the first-team manager John Hughes decided that Wilson was a good fit for the club.

Falkirk's backroom team of season 2010-11: kitman Stephen Sproule, physio Kenny Cross, Lee Bullen, Steven Pressley, Embassadors Club member Bob Worgan, Alex Smith, goalkeeping coach Jim Preston, academy director Craig McPherson and director of football Ross Wilson
Falkirk's managerial and backroom team of season 2010-11: kitman Stephen Sproule, physio Kenny Cross, Lee Bullen, manager Steven Pressley, Ambassadors Club member Bob Worgan, technical director Alex Smith, goalkeeping coach Jim Preston, academy director Craig McPherson and director of football Ross Wilson

"At the end of that first season he said to me that they wanted to bring somebody in to do a player liaison role," Wilson recalls. "I just agreed, because that's what you did with Yogi.

"I was playing at it at the time, I never thought that 12 years later I'd still be in the industry. I only did that job that they created for six or seven months and then they created another one, and it took off from there. I loved it.

"What you see is what you get with Yogi, he's very straight talking, very direct, absolutely intense, driving you on all the time. You could go in the shower at 10 o'clock at night and come out and he's phoned you five times.

"It might be something that wasn't that important, but it was to him. If you give your opinion when he asks for it and you work hard, he's phenomenal."

Following a plan

Wilson did not enter football with a specific ambition, but his five years at Falkirk left him with a clear idea of where he wanted to go. Hughes left for Hibernian and wanted Wilson to join him, while another opportunity arose to work alongside John Park, Celtic's football development manager and chief scout. Wilson, though, had his sights set on England.

"To not go to Hibs with John was really tough," he admits. "There was a point where I thought he was never going to talk to me again. It just didn't fit for me at that time.

John Hughes
Wilson describes former Falkirk boss John Hughes, now at Inverness, as "phenomenal"

"How many times do you get the opportunity to join Celtic? Probably once. The success that John Park has had at Celtic in terms of player recruitment is huge. I'm close with John and he's been a huge influence on me as well. That was a big decision, but it was for the same reason, that I had something else in mind."

Instead, Wilson ended up at Watford. That decision initially seemed a misjudgement, after the man who hired him - Julian Winter - left when Wilson was four days into the job. Twenty-four hours later, the club was taken over, but Wilson embraced the upheaval as another opportunity to grow.

"You're sitting in the office thinking, 'God, I'm a guy from Falkirk, what am I doing here? They've just sacked the fellow who's brought me in and the club's been taken over'," he laughs.

"But I had a brilliant chairman in Graham Taylor, who gave incredible support. We had three different owners, but they never replaced the chief exec so I got a whole host of responsibilities that I probably wouldn't have got otherwise.

"After the final change in ownership [to the Pozzo family in 2012] I could have stayed and worked with an Italian technical director, but I went to Huddersfield, who had just won promotion from League One.

"Dean Hoyle [the chairman] is a Huddersfield supporter and he's ploughed £40m into the club. What he wanted to do was build the model that we had at Watford, a proper training ground, academy and scouting network. The club finished in three consecutive highest positions and made quite a lot of money in player trading."

Lured to Southampton and chasing Van Dijk

It was during lunch with Les Reed, Southampton's executive director, that Wilson was offered the chance to move to St Mary's. His role is to manage the scouting and recruitment of players, with the club's approach considered to be one of the most extensive and rewarding in the English top-flight.

Virgil van Dijk
Ross Wilson worked to bring Celtic defender Virgil van Dijk to Southampton

Among the first tasks was signing at least one centre-back for Koeman's starting line-up, which ended with the signing of Virgil van Dijk from Celtic for £13m.

"It's not rocket science," Wilson says. "I oversee the process and we have a team of scouts who are constantly looking at players within their territories. They know the attributes we're looking for at Southampton, which is part of our identity, so they know what a player needs to be able to do in each position.

"But alongside that we're speaking to agents, we're doing due diligence into their background, finding out about their character, speaking to people who have worked with them before. So it's just building that whole dossier, while the analysts are building a technical profile alongside that, looking at his statistics and comparing them with other targets.

"At any time we might have 20 in the mix for one position, then we narrow it down to three or four. I wouldn't say there were concerns [with Van Dijk's European performances]. We look all across Europe and we know what the market is telling us in terms of where the centre-backs are and the ones that fit Southampton."

Wilson has come a long way from writing match reports for Falkirk's under-18 team, but it has been a worthwhile journey.

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