Wilson ready for the bigger stage

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It was not just the end of an era when Martin O'Neill walked away from Celtic on an emotional day at Hampden Park last May, it was the end of one young player's dreams, or so he thought.

While the manager took the acclaim of his supporters, cradling the Scottish Cup in one hand, after last season's final with Dundee United, Mark Wilson could only look on in disbelief.

The man who could help him fulfil his own ambitions of being a Celtic player was leaving. Yet all good things come to those who wait, as Wilson found out last week with his £500,000 transfer from Dundee United.

The Scotland Under-21 right-back could make his debut today at Fir Park as the Scottish Premier League leaders seek to maintain the momentum built up under O'Neill's replacement, Gordon Strachan. "There was a worry that my chance had gone," admits Wilson. "There was a lot of talk about me moving when Martin O'Neill was manager and then it died down when he left, so I just put it out of my head.

"I had resigned myself to it not happening and I could not believe it when I got the call from Dundee United last week."

He is part of Dundee United's youth academy that has earned the club more than £20m - ex-pupils include Duncan Ferguson and Kevin Gallacher - but he came from right under Celtic's nose, having grown up in Coatbridge, outside Glasgow.

"I was given the chance to train with Celtic when I was at school but I felt I was too young to jump into a club of this size," Wilson says. "So, I chose Dundee United, who have a reputation for developing players, and hoped I would catch their eye later on." The gamble was worth it. He played 136 times at Tannadice, a figure his contemporaries at Parkhead could only dream of.

"Am I ready for this? I certainly hope so. The main thing is that Gordon Strachan feels I am good enough. I came through the ranks at United and moving anywhere would be a big change but with Celtic it is massive. However, I think I am ready for a move to a bigger stage."

Wilson is likely to replace Paul Telfer at right-back but he does not come with youthful arrogance. "I prefer to be playing in the first team - that's my preference," he said. "With Dundee United it was the same; wherever the manager wanted me to play, that's where I would have to play. I have a lot still to learn and I'm not the finished article."

Strachan may feel otherwise. "He's a good young kid, one of the best in Scotland, and wasn't an extortionate price," said the Celtic manager. "I'm sure we will get good value for money. I know a lot of it these days is to do with economics - but a lot of it is to do with just using my eyes and seeing ability."