My word, Harry Wilson!
The winds of change are blowing over the Kop, with Liverpool's longtime sporting director Michael Edwards moving on and his handpicked successor Julian Ward stepping into the job. One of Edwards's last deals was to transfer Harry Wilson to Fulham for a reported sum of £12m, after Wilson had gone on loan with three other clubs under Ward's supervision. Was it a mistake?
To find out, let's have a look at Wilson's numbers over the past few seasons at RW, here adjusted to a Premier League standard:
Apart from 2020-21, when Wilson rarely played RW for Cardiff, the improvement in his attacking output and ball retention at the position is incredible. At his current level, he'd be one of the best wingers in the Premier League for both of those metrics, adding +0.07 expected goals per game versus a median player. That's worth almost +3 goal difference over the course of a season. Wilson is exceptional in 1v1s with and without the ball, and he's good in the air in open play. He's also an outstanding finisher in open play. What's not to like?
Well, last season Wilson ended up playing CAM/SS a lot more than usual under Neil Harris and Mick McCarthy. It certainly wasn't his best position:
Wilson's output was lower on both sides of the ball, and his ball retention was much weaker at CAM/SS. To understand why, take a look at his smartermaps at CAM/SS last season and RW this season:
In the first smartermap, Wilson's touches are spread out all over the pitch, with a mix of dribbles and shots along the edge of the final third, and long passes through the channels. He's taking a lot of risks in midfield, and overall he looks a little lost – there's no obvious area where he's operating most of the time. In the second smartermap, Wilson is occupying a wide swath on the right flank, dribbling as he comes inside, shooting from better locations, and using shorter passes behind midfield. Partly that's down to Fulham's less direct style, but it's also a result of playing to Wilson's strengths.
Marco Silva has certainly done that at Fulham, using Wilson primarily on the right. Indeed, Wilson also put up great numbers playing RM/RWB, even in Cardiff's setup:
So Liverpool sold a player who, at age 24, could turn out to be one of the better wide men in the Premier League – and probably will be, come next season. Wilson is five years younger than Mohamed Salah, which is exactly the gap we usually recommend for succession planning. And at Fulham, Wilson is even playing a similar style to Salah's:
Wilson is the better tackler, but otherwise there are a lot of similarities in the ratings. The subtler differences are in the two players' roles: Salah gets into the box to shoot more often, and Wilson is more of a playmaker. They also tend to shoot from different locations:
Salah almost always cuts in from wide areas before shooting at an angle, while Wilson prefers to be more central before pulling the trigger. They're both great scorers, though.
So could Wilson have been Salah's successor? It's understandable that he went out on loan, as he needed first-team football to develop. That part of Edwards and Ward's plan for him definitely worked. Salah was always going to play this season, too, so Wilson may have wanted a permanent new home rather than another temporary stay. The question is what happens next.
Salah will be 30 years old in the summer. He'll have one year left on his contract, and his value might never be higher. It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest a price of £100m or more, even for an older player nearing the end of his deal. For Edwards and Ward, wouldn't that represent good value? And at that point, who would replace him? Unless Liverpool have a buyback option, Wilson won't come cheaply anymore – and neither will any other player with similar numbers.
In fact, looking at this season and last, there are only two other RWs in our database with 80+ attacking output and ball retention ratings over at least five full matches worth of playing time (475'+). One is Serge Gnabry, hardly a bargain. The other... well, we'll let you go looking for him. Maybe Ward will be, too.
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