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Harry Wilson: Inside the Liverpool winger’s loan spell with Derby as he targets play-off glory

He’s played for his country in European Championship qualifiers, he’s played for Liverpool’s first team in the FA Cup.

But for Harry Wilson, this is by far the biggest game of his young career.

His Derby side travel to Le on Wednesday evening hoping to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit to reach the Championship play-off final. 

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Wembley awaits. The £100 million (€115m/$129m) game, they call it.

For Wilson, it’s the chance to light up the big stage. And after a successful season on loan with the Rams, the Liverpool winger is determined not to let it pass him by.

“It’s huge for any player,” he tells  Goal . “These are the games you want to play in, where everything is at stake and everyone is watching. It’s what you play football for.

“It’s a different kind of pressure to anything I’ve experienced. Playing for Wales or making my debut for Liverpool, it was excitement, a feeling of freedom even. 

“This is different. You’ve worked all season to get into this position, and you know that one mistake can cost everything, or one piece of magic can make you a hero. It’s excitement of a different kind because the stakes are so high.”

Derby were left frustrated by Saturday’s first leg at Pride Park, where Kemar Roofe scored the only goal for Le and Frank Lampard’s team were furious at the controversial decision of referee Craig Pawson, who overturned his own penalty award for the Rams on the advice of his assistant. 

“We felt hard done by,” says Wilson. “But we felt on our second-half performance that we have shown we can beat Le if we take our chances. We created a few opportunities and looked a lot more dangerous. We know it’ll be a real good atmosphere at Elland Road and we have to go there and play our game. If we can do that, we have a chance.”

If Derby are to mount a comeback, Wilson is likely to be key. The 22-year-old has enjoyed a hugely productive year with Lampard’s side, scoring 15 league goals and 17 in total. It has, from his point of view and Liverpool’s, been the perfect loan.

“It couldn’t have gone much better,” he agrees. “There have been lots of high points – the best of which came at Old Trafford when we beat Manchester United in the Carabao Cup (Wilson scored that night with a 30-yard free-kick). It’s been hard at times too, but I’ve gained so much from this year.

“It was a difficult summer last year because there was so much interest, which is nice of course but it means you have a lot of thinking to do and a big decision to make. I spent a lot of time discussing my options with my agent and my family.

“I could have joined a number of clubs but it was when I spoke to the manager here that my mind was made up. He connected with me and I wanted to play for him. Obviously he was a legend as a player and for someone like me, an attacking player, it was something which appealed. I liked what he told me about the way he wanted his team to play, and the ambitions he had for the club.”

Wilson adds: “He’s not a shouter, but he gets his point across and it really works well with him and his coaching staff. The sessions he puts on, they’re the type I imagine he would have enjoyed and benefited from as a player. You can see the influence of some of the coaches he worked under.”

Lampard, for his part, has been gushing in his praise of Wilson, whose development has been clear. Though naturally a right-winger, cutting in onto his favoured left foot, he has enjoyed a spell as a roving central midfielder too. He is, he says, becoming a more rounded player as a result.

“Yeah that was big for me,” Wilson says. “Just before Christmas we had a few injuries and the manager asked me to slot in there. He showed me a few videos, some of David Silva for example, and spoke about how he plays centrally despite being pretty slight like me. It’s about using your body, being aware of your surroundings and playing with your head up.

“It was new to me in a way, because I’ve always been out wide. In the middle, you’re doing a lot of defensive work which goes unnoticed – cutting off angles, stopping passing lanes, covering when a team-mate presses. But I enjoyed it, and I was still involved in an attacking sense. Now I feel like a more complete player because I’ve seen a different position and how it works. That can only help me in the long run.”

The long run, of course, could well see him return to Liverpool. Wilson was back at Anfield last week to watch Jurgen Klopp’s side beat Barcelona in the Champions League. He sat among the fans in the Anfield Road end, and says seeing the R dismantle Lionel Messi and Co. ranks among his favourite nights of all time.

“It’s inspiring for me,” he says. “Those occasions, those atmospheres, they’re what you dream of, you know? I want that, whether it’s at Liverpool, whether it’s somewhere else. I want it on Wednesday, when we go to Le. I want to experience those feelings and those emotions. I can’t wait.”

As for the future beyond this season, that can wait.

“I’d be foolish if I started looking too far ahead,” he says, with maturity. “I’m happy with how things have gone here, but when you’ve put so much into a campaign, like we all have at Derby, I’d be letting myself down if I was stood here thinking about the summer, or about next season or about what the future holds.

“No, it’s all about Le on Wednesday. And hopefully Wembley after that!”