There were options to sign big-money deals in England and overseas … but James Wilson chose friendship and happiness at Aberdeen.
Talking for the first time since signing a two-year contract, the former Manchester United striker lifted the lid on just why he opted to return to Pittodrie following a loan spell last season.
Sunderland and Preston North End were both keen on securing the 23-year-old following his exit from Old Trafford this summer.
Wilson confirmed there was also interest from the United States which could have been far more financially lucrative.
However, Aberdeen offered not only the opportunity to resurrect his career within a top flight but also to play alongside team-mates he trusted – team-mates who picked him up when he was down.
Wilson battled to get his career back on track at Pittodrie last season having once been one of the hottest properties in English football following his goalscoring debut with United.
Ultimately an anterior cruciate ligament injury, suffered on loan to Derby County in October 2016, derailed his career. It required surgery and kept the England Under-23 captain out for the season.
Now free of the burden of expectation that comes with being a player for one of the biggest teams in the world, Wilson is determined to reignite his career at Pittodrie and be happy again.
He said: “When I was injured that was a big strain on my mental state.
“Then I went to Sheffield United and was not really playing so I was stuck in a rut a little bit.
“With the loan to Aberdeen, I started playing and the lads were brilliant. They brought me in and got around me when I was down.
“It was a really positive mood and really positive move for me.
“There was nothing stopping me from coming back.
“There were moves away (in the summer), maybe even American ones that were offering more money.
“But it was just about the enjoyment at Aberdeen and being around a set of lads I enjoy being around and can trust.
“This is perfect and hopefully I can keep building on what I have and keep going.”
Having come through the youth ranks at Manchester United to become a first-team player, Wilson made a sensational debut when scoring twice in a 3-1 defeat of Hull City in May 2014.
Old Trafford boss Louis van Gaal was so impressed the following season he hailed Wilson as one of England’s brightest talents and insisted the then 18-year-old had the potential to succeed Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
Van Gaal signed Wilson on a four-year contract until June 2019, with the option of another year. That option was not taken up this summer.
Wilson said: “I was expecting it for a while to be honest as I had been on loan the last few years.
“Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time there (at Manchester United) and am really enjoying my time here as well.”
For the first time since he was a kid in the youth set-up, Wilson was no longer a Manchester United player. Being free of the pressures and expectation of playing for the three time Champions League winners can bring a freedom – of sorts.
And he accepts there is still expectation at Aberdeen.
He said: “I was always the boy that came from United and all that so the pressure has lifted a little.
“There is always going to be a little bit of pressure there anyway and all if have to do is try to deal with that.
“I have to focus on doing what I do best which is what I have been doing for the last few years.”
Wilson’s exit from Old Trafford sparked interest from a number of clubs but ultimately it was his connection with Aberdeen that made a return an easy decision.
Asked if there was any contact from Preston or Sunderland, he said: “My agent dealt with all that.
“He dealt with everything and didn’t really notify me unless I needed to be notified.
“I am sure there were offers in from other clubs.
“But I enjoyed my time so much here and I am just getting back to being happy and enjoying my football.
“So far that is the case and getting into the team against Kilmarnock was a huge boost for me confidence wise.
“Hopefully the manager has the confidence in me again to start me against Ross County.”
The 0-0 draw with Kilmarnock at the weekend was only his second start of the season.
Wilson admits to frustration at that return but argues he is still working towards 100% match sharpness having joined the Dons pre-season later than others.
While without a club he worked alone on his fitness. He has also worked extra since his move and is confident sharpness is coming.
He said: “Naturally the frustration is there but I just have to keep training as I have been.
“All I can do in training is do enough to stay in the team now I have had that start.
“I missed two weeks which is really where all the core fitness work gets drilled into the boys. However, I was working hard and did extra things when I came back.
“It is just match fitness now and the 60 to 70-minute games I have been having for the last few weeks have been vital for my fitness.
“Hopefully I can just build on that and if I can get in the team again, go from there.”
There is also frustration at Aberdeen’s recent form as they host Ross County today having won just once in five matches.
Wilson said: “The form hasn’t been great as we had a few losses and the cup tie didn’t go as well as planned, although we got through.
“We are feeling positive, which is all we can be.
“We are looking forward to the game and getting back out there at Pittodrie, and hopefully three points.
“Coming off the back of the draw at Killie we thought our performance wasn’t really up to it.
“Hopefully we can go one better against Ross County.”