Forest Green Rovers are a fascinating club. Under the ownership of Dale Vincent, the club have become the first vegan club in world football. They also invested in the development of their New Lawn stadium with the implementation of the first fully organic playing surface and the use of solar panels on the roof of the stadium. To date, they have been recognised by FIFA as the “greenest team in the World”, while the United Nations have recognised them as the world’s first carbon-neutral club.
The ‘green’ aspect of the club obviously generates a lot of interest and coverage from the media, but this past season has seen performances on the pitch match the plaudits that the club receives for its environmental work.
When the dust settled on the League Two season, we saw Forest Green promoted to League One as champions, albeit only on goal difference over Exeter City, and the club are now looking forward to preparing for next season.
Those preparations, however, have already been hit with the news that coach Rob Edwards has left the club to take charge of Watford following their relegation from the Premier League. While that news was a blow to the club’s aspirations going forward, it is likely that the biggest departure is yet to come with the 22-year-old wingback Kane Wilson available to leave the club on a freedom of contract.
Wilson was initially on the books of West Bromwich Albion before he left the club in 2020 to join Forest Green. This past season saw an explosion in output and form from the youngster as he firmly established himself as one of the most dynamic and dangerous attacking players in the league.
The smart money appears to be on Edwards looking to his former club to sign the explosive Wilson but there will be no shortage of interest in the youngster’s signature this coming window. Let’s take a look at why he is in such high demand in this scout report.
First thing’s first, all data in the above pizza chart is courtesy of Wyscout but it has been converted into percentile data comparing Wilson to all other fullbacks or wingbacks who played in League Two last season.
As you can see there is nothing in Wilson’s game that suggests he is an elite, or even strong, defensive player, but his outputs for ball progression and the attacking side of the game were outstanding across the whole season.
This fits with the eye test when we watch Wilson play. His strength lies in his ability to get on the ball and stretch the width and depth of the pitch through his movement. When receiving in front of the opposition defensive unit he likes to take a touch and then attack down the outside. When attacking in more transitional moments as the opposition are not set in a well structured defensive shape, we see Wilson using his speed to create separation that allows him to receive the ball in space while facing the opposition’s goal.
Forest Green tended to play last season in a 3-4-1-2 system and Kane’s dynamism from the right-hand side of the pitch was one of the main reasons for their performances as they lifted the league title.
Strong delivery from wide areas
Wilson is listed at 180cm | 5’11” and he has an upright running style when travelling with the ball. When isolated 1v1 against opposition defenders in wide areas he makes use of his combination of size and speed to create separation from opposition defenders and to make a yard of space. This allows Kane to open up angles to get crosses into the area whether from deeper positions, where he can play deep crosses to the back post, or closer to the touchline from where he can either whip the ball across or look for opportunities to cut the ball back for teammates.
When moving with the ball and engaging opposition defensive players Wilson uses his blend of strength and speed to his advantage. We see an example of this here, as Wilson initially receives the ball and has his space closed down by the opposition defender. He gets his left hand up quickly and pushes the defender off. This unbalanced the defender and allowed Wilson to gain separation. From this position, he is then able to fire a low cut back across goal.
His strength and physicality add to his overall game but do not mistake this for meaning that he does not have ability on the ball.
This time, the ball finds Wilson as he attacks forward into space. In these areas of the field, he does not panic or overplay when he receives in space, there are players that would rush the end product here or overthink the delivery; instead, Wilson remains calm and finds an accurate cross onto the head of a teammate who is moving forward to attack the ball.
Wilson is such an attacking threat that his positioning on the pitch often leads to him almost being in the areas that we would traditionally expect to find a right-winger.
Driving in possession
While Wilson’s end product was very impressive last season, as is shown in his goal contributions and expected goal contributions, his ability to get into the areas to make those contributions is key to his overall game.
For a wingback who is as physical as Wilson is he has the pace and guile to get past defenders with ease.
In this example, we see Wilson receiving the ball from the Forest Green centre-back as he is tight to the touchline and facing his own goal. First of all, it is interesting to note that there are no midfield players positioned near Wilson as he takes possession of the ball, this is likely a deliberate tactical choice to allow Wilson to isolate the opposition fullback on his side.
As Wilson takes possession of the ball the opposition defender is moving to engage and close him down. Wilson simply allows the ball to run to him and flicks the ball past the defender, the momentum of the opposition player takes him away from the ball and Wilson is free to run into space.
Wilson’s ability on the ball also allows him to effectively link the play in the final third. He receives the ball and can either stand the defender up to go around or link play before making a run past the defender to break a line.
We see this here, as Kane is initially in possession on the right-hand side. He plays inside to a teammate before continuing his run to receive in space out wide. From this area, his ability to drive in possession of the ball is top-level.
Creativity in the final third
While we have already touched upon Wilson’s ability to cross the ball with a variety of techniques from the wide areas, he also has the capacity to find creative ways to access the penalty area when cutting inside from the right-hand side.
While Wilson will tend to look for opportunities to attack the opposition defender down the outside, he is also intelligent enough to realise that he needs to balance this by attacking on the inside as well. Even though he is most comfortable on his right foot, he can manipulate the ball centrally as well.
We see this here as despite having space to move outside, Wilson instead drives inside the pitch. You can see how disorganised the opposition defensive block is, three players are grouped together on the near side, but as Wilson moves across with the ball, he spots the angled run of a midfield player moving to attack the area.
Wilson can slip the ball through the defensive line from this position to create a chance on goal.
We have a similar situation here as Wilson decides to attack from outside to inside in order to keep the opposition defender off balance. When Wilson moves into these areas we will typically see teammates look to make forward runs to break the line and access the areas as he knows how to find through balls into the area.
Once again, it is an angled run across the face of the area that allows the ball to be slipped through to create a goalscoring chance.
With Kane Wilson being out of contract this summer, there will be no shortage of interest in securing his signature. While the appointment of Rob Edwards by Watford appears to make them early front runners for the young wingback there have also been continuous reports that the likes of Nottingham Forest have been keeping a close eye on the situation.
I don’t think that there is any doubt that Wilson will be moving this summer. The only question is which Championship club will win the race and call themselves his new home.