Former Rangers coach lifts lid on his MLS adventure and the 'big sacrifice' that led to top Charlotte FC role

Tommy Wilson, Technical Director at Charlotte FC former coach at Rangers FC
Tommy Wilson, Technical Director at Charlotte FC former coach at Rangers FC -Credit:Image: Matt Ralph

Last week he was in Maryland then Chicago. Soon, it will be New York and Atlanta. But it doesn’t matter where Tommy Wilson goes in the United States or how many domestic flights he climbs on.

His heart will always be in Scotland. That’s why some day – whenever it might be – he’ll return home. Not only to continue a football journey that has seen him spend the last decade Stateside. But also to reacquaint himself with a family who have given up just as much as he has for his career. Wilson left Glasgow for the USA 11 years ago.

After working as the SFA’s head of youth he led Scotland’s Under-19s to a European Championship Final and World Cup spot. Off the back of that he was hired by Rangers’ academy to work on player development. And after a stint as the Ibrox club’s reserve boss, Wilson was poached by MLS outfit Philadelphia Union in 2013. Just last month – after a decade working in Philly – he was appointed as Charlotte FC’s new technical director.

Wilson now works alongside former Aston Villa boss Dean Smith at the new MLS franchise, which boasts the likes of Scott Arfield and Liel Abada on their roster. The 62-year-old is immersed in the job. With responsibilities for first team, B team and academy, he flies all over the country.

But whether it’s at his house in Charlotte or in a Washington hotel room, Wilson’s mind often drifts back to Scotland. Before the club’s MLS victory over Chicago Fire in midweek, he told MailSport : “I didn’t expect to be out here this long.

“I left Scotland with a decent reputation and I’ve strengthened that in America. But the big sacrifice has been from my family. They’re all in Scotland now.

“Regardless of what you say or how hard you try, it’s tough on us all. They’ve sacrificed a lot for me and my career. It can get lonely at times and it doesn’t matter how busy you are.

“My wife Marion was over initially for a few years but it’s hard when the rest of your family is in Scotland. I was working long hours and trying to build something from the ground up in Philadelphia.

“That takes a lot of energy, time and commitment. So it was better that she went home and I travelled back and forth.

“I have a daughter Chloe, son-in-law Barry, grandson Cole and granddaughter, Lottie. My mother Anne and brother Scott still live in Carmyle. My family came out here and they will be back soon.

“But it’s not easy to get everyone across the pond. There’s school and different commitments that make it difficult. And in this new job it’s even harder. At Charlotte I have responsibilities across all of our teams.

“Their seasons don’t run at the same time. So there’s always a team playing regardless of what time of year it is. It’s pretty challenging.

“At Philadelphia Union I was negotiating a contract that would allow me to come back more often. But then the Charlotte opportunity came up. As a family we discussed it and it was too good to turn down.

“But it was a big decision for us and a tough one. We all thought I was going to be back in Scotland far more often.

“Of course, there was the temptation to come back to the UK then. I thought about just taking my chances. I’ve had opportunities before but either I turned them down or they just didn’t work out. The MLS is a really interesting place to work and I’m well looked after here. I’ve got a really good job. You have to weigh all of that up.”

So what attracted Wilson to Charlotte, almost 4000 miles away from his grandkids? Ultimately, he’s obsessed with football, coaching and developing young players.

And he was exhilarated by a project which, led by billionaire owner David Tepper, could become huge in the MLS. Wilson said: “At Charlotte’s first ever home game there were 75,000 fans in the stadium.

“In our opening MLS game this season we had 65,000. We’re associated with the Carolina Panthers organisation in the NFL and David is one of the top sporting businessmen in America. So it’s a club with great potential and only two years old.

“When I looked at that and the job itself, working closer to the first team, it was something I’d wanted to do for a number of years. When we balanced all of that out, I couldn’t say no.

“Dean and I didn’t know each other before we got here. But we’ve started to work really well together. Our Serbian sporting director Zoran Krneta has given us freedom to get the club running the way we want it to.

“I look at how the first team operated, take those ideas and create a game and player development methodology that’s consistent throughout the club.

“It’s not the only way a club can run. But in my opinion it’s the way it SHOULD be run. I’m the technical director and that role can be different at other places. But the way it’s set up here is the way I think it should be.

“And I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for this job. It’s early days but the signs are still good. If you come back and look at our club in a couple of years, I’m pretty sure it will look differently to what it does today.

“Dean is very down to earth and personable. Very quickly here, he has created a good spirit. What I like about him is that he’s got a way of working. He has a method and a style that he likes.

“The way we see the game is very similar. Maybe that’s our British backgrounds. If Dean was French or South American it might be harder for me. But we are aligned on a lot of things and he’s extremely open.

“I feel as if I’m still learning. That’s something I’ve always wanted. I’ve never thought I knew it all. And with Dean his door is always open. If you get that synergy with people pulling in the same direction it can be really powerful.”

Wilson is determined to leave his mark on Charlotte FC. That’s why he puts the hours in and is restricted to FaceTime calls with family. But he also can’t hide his desire to work in the UK again.

He said: “I came over here for the job, not the lifestyle. I couldn’t tell you what’s great to do or where’s great to visit in Charlotte or Philadelphia.

“There’s always plenty to do for me to complete my work for any given day. I’m used to that now. I need to be really careful where I put my energy. I guess that’s a skill you must have in the job.

“But I definitely see myself working in the UK again. It’s not my intention to finish my career in the USA, I’ve always told people that. I’ve been doing an internship and learning about private equity.

“In the future I’ll probably position myself as a football consultant. Businesses look for industry experts. If you’re an expert in pharmaceuticals then you can be a consultant.

“And it’s the same thing with football. I’ll never stop learning. I’ll come back eventually, to Scotland or England. Having worked in America, you realise the UK isn’t that big.

“If I was in London at least I’d be in the same time zone as my family. And I do miss Scottish football. There’s a different feel to it – it has an edge.

“On Wednesday night, we had some Charlotte fans in Chicago for the game. But away fans aren’t the culture here because the distances are so great. Before I left Rangers I remember going to an Old Firm game and seeing the police horses segregate the supporters from both sides..

“You miss that kind of passion. Of course, there’s passion over here but it has a different feel to it. And I want to experience that again.”