BY MATTHEW GALEA FOR UNITEDINFOCUS.COM
As a teenage Manchester United academy prodigy, Mark Wilson was the talk of Old Trafford.
Following hot on the heels of the “Class of 92”, Wilson was touted as one of the leading talents to come through the next generation of academy graduates.
But there was just one problem. The likes of Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham – whom Wilson had been likened too – were far from done tearing up the English Premier League and Europe.
In his five years at Old Trafford, Wilson would make 10 appearances, a number which might have been far more had he not had to displace such prestigious midfield talent, but nonetheless, Wilson insists he would not have changed a thing when speaking to OZMUFC.com’s Matthew Galea alongside Manchester United author Wayne Barton on the UnitedInFocus podcast.
“There was two ways to look at it,” Wilson started.
“It was a blessing and a curse. To learn from that calibre of player, certainly got me playing at a level that I never reached again after I left the club (to sign for Middlesbrough in 2001).
“I may have understood the game better as I got older and I became more consistent and my stats went up in terms of playing time, but I never reached that creative free-flowing level I felt I had at United.
“And that was because of the level of practice every single day. [Those players] bought you up to that level and if you don’t get up to that level you’re not a part of it.
“Thankfully, I had enough ability to get into the mix, but from there it was a real test for me from that point.”
The hard part for Wilson was the lack of opportunity and the pressure placed on youngster to never turn in anything less than a flawless performance.
On one hand, the standard of players around Wilson bought the best out of him, on the other it meant anything less than perfection when he was given his first-team opportunities meant he would go months without another.
“We didn’t get the opportunity to be played through a bad game, let alone a bad spell,” Wilson said.
“I remember we played Sturm Graz, and I played in the second game in the year after we won the Treble. I remember having a good first half and I’ve watched the game since, but I gave away a couple of passes at the end of the half and Roy [Keane] nailed me one, as he does.
“As we sat down at half-time, the gaffer [Alex Ferguson] came up to me and said, ‘if you give the ball away again, you’re coming off!'”
“So I thought, ‘okay,’ and being stubborn I thought, ‘you know what, I’m having a good game I’ll keep doing what I’m doing,’ … so we kick-off, the ball comes back to me and I send a long ball to [Ryan] Giggs’ path and the right-back just flicks it out of play. Even Giggs gave me a round of applause, but I look over to the bench and the subs are out!
“Twelve minutes later, I’m off. But that was the standard!”
To hear the full interview with Mark Wilson, be sure to listen to the UnitedInFocus podcast in full and subscribe on iTunes. Mark also spoke to Matthew and Wayne about last week’s 0-0 draw against Burnley as well as quick look at tomorrow morning’s game against Fenerbache and the next Premier League fixture against Swansea.