Part one of a Q&A with Tommy Wilson kicks off our academy week coverage

A two-part series sitdown with the new Union academy director

Wilson academy week

Photo Credit: 
Philadelphia Union Communications

It's "academy week" here at philadelphiaunion.com.

As the club prepares to unveil the new look academy model in conjunction with YSC Sports We kick off our academy week  with part one of a two-part question and answer series with new Philadelphia Union academy director Tommy Wilson. 

Wilson arrived in this spring from Scottish club Rangers FC, where he served as Rangers' academy technical director and reserve team coach. Additionally, he was formerly head of coaching and education for the Scottish Football Association.

As a player, Wilson made more than 400 appearances in Scotland’s Premier League. He spent the majority of his career with St. Mirren, where he played as a defender.

In part one of a sitdown with philadelphiaunion.com, we speak with Wilson about his reasons for coming to Philadelphia, his background, and his day-to-day role with the academy.

In part two which will run on philadelphiaunion.com Tuesday, Wilson talks his philosophy regarding youth development. He elaborates on topics such as college soccer and building a comprehensive regional scouting system.

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PhiladelphiaUnion.com: We’ll start with a “simple” question -- why did you take this job? What was it about Philadelphia, Major League Soccer, and the American setup that sparked this career move?

Tommy Wilson: I'd been traveling back and forth to the United States for about 25 years or so. I traveled over when I was playing. I came over in the Summer to do camps and I was interested in coaching. I was still playing in the premier league in Scotland at that time for St. Mirren. Through that process, coming over each year, I made contacts over here. Ironically, one of the guys who I would probably attribute more the reason why I’m here is Bobby Clark*, who's Scottish but working here as a college coach. I met Bobby during that time and he was always really upbeat about the prospects and the potential in the USA. So, I came back and forward, and after a few years another colleague, a former coach of mine, a manager, Iain Munro (now YSC Academy Director) was working here. I was invited over to do some coaching clinics I met the owners of the club at that time and then maybe about a year to two years ago Rangers in Glasgow had problems and went into administration. So I think everyone at rangers was looking to see if, you know, am I going to lose my job here? I think everyone looked around to see what was out there. Things stabilized at Rangers and the jobs were all secure, but during that two or three years I started to see the project here growing and the potential and that's really what appealed to me. It was the opportunity that appealed to me, the chance to start something from fresh and to try and create something unique.

Editors note: Bobby Clark has been the head coach at Notre Dame since 2001. He’s a legend at Scotland’s Aberdeen Football Club, where he made more than 500 appearances over 17 years.

PU.com: When did you first come into contact with the Union front office and speak with Nick Sakiewicz and John Hackworth?

TW: That was maybe two or three years ago, but I was still working for Rangers then. I came over to do a coaching clinic and I went to a Union game. I actually think I went to the very first Union game, the first league game, it was at Lincoln Financial Field against D.C. United. I was at that game and I met Peter Nowak, who was in charge then. I met John Hackworth and Nick Sakiewicz. I wasn’t here looking for a job or anything, I was just taken to the match. Things progressed really over the period of a few years and eventually I spoke to the manager at Rangers, Ally McCoist. He wanted me to stay but he understood the opportunity that I had here. I left on good terms.

PU.com: You’ve been coming back and forth for some time, but now you’re settled in the area. Talk to me about your first impressions – the team, the town, and the structure here.

TW: I think the team is on a good run of form just now. The first team staff have got them playing (well). They're playing an open and expansive brand of football that the fans will enjoy. So that bit is really positive. The city is not unlike Glasgow. It’s a blue collar town with similar values. I say to the lads here - the young players at Glasgow, when they make the first team they get a standing ovation from fifty thousand people if they win a tackle, not if they score a goal. It's effort that they look for, commitment. There are a lot of similarities. The facilities are excellent. Rangers had one of the best training grounds in Europe. We had six grass fields and an indoor area. So in terms of, if you were comparing them, then the facilities here are a bit behind from what some of the top academies have in Europe. But I know (YSC founder) Richie Graham, the ownership group, and Nick are exploring opportunities to improve the facility provision both for the first team and the youth academy.

PU.com: Can you explain to the fans what your specific duties will be? What will you be doing on a day to day basis? What are the immediate priorities?

TW: At the moment, because we don't have players, we're busily - a lot of our work is in recruitment and trying to get the culture right about the academy. That includes hiring staff, buying equipment, putting in place an offseason program for the young players and a preseason program for the young players. I think it's sort of the intention to have the young boys train for five weeks full time during the day while they're off school, which will be new for them. When we have the players in place, I'll have full time coaches in place at fourteens, sixteens, and eighteens. But my strength, if I have any, is coaching. So I don’t want my job to turn into administrator. I'll be on the training ground every day with the players. I'll be there with all of the teams.

PU.com: Going back to Rangers for a moment, it was an extremely difficult time for everyone involved with the club. The team went through financial struggles and ended up in Scotland’s third division. What was that like on a personal level? 

TW: It was really disappointing. The club is a great club with great traditions and a lot of good people. Fortunately for the club, it's stable now with Ally McCoist in charge and Walter Smith as chairman, guys that live and breathe the club. Neither of those guys need the jobs they've got. They're not doing it for the money. They're doing it for their love of the club. The club fell into the wrong hands I would say. That was unfortunate. I think people within the club, to be fair, the first guy who took over, the club went into administration. Another consortium came in, and I'm not sure of the ins and outs of that one. All I would say is that the club seems to have stabilized now. We've got a lot of season ticket sales, we've got fantastic support. Can you imagine over here if Philadelphia Union had to go and play in the PDL? Would they still sell out the stadium every week? They might actually because the fans are similar. They love the club. But it was a unique situation, one the club seems to be emerging from, thankfully.

Part II of this sitdown with Union academy director Tommy Wilson will run Tuesday. Additional information on the Union academy to be unveiled later this week.

Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel contributed to this report. Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at k.kinkead@hotmail.com