“England were trying to ring my agent a lot and wanting to speak to me, but I weren’t having none of it,” declared a young Neco Williams not long before he made his senior debut for the Welsh national side on Thursday against Finland.
As if snubbing the old enemy wasn’t enough to endear himself to the Welsh faithful Williams went one better, popping up with his first senior goal in the dying seconds to prevent Wales from succumbing to a disappointing draw against Bulgaria.
It was another important milestone in the Wrexham teenager’s fledgling career to date, and it seems as if the only way is up for the right back.
Williams has been at Liverpool since the age of six and has progressed through the various youth ranks. Previously an attacking midfielder or a winger in his younger teenage years, the 19-year old was converted to a right back by Academy coaches to help accelerate his development.
After a back injury ruled him out for almost the entirety of the 2017-18 season he impressed upon his return to action in 2018, making his debut for the U23s and Wales’ U19 side.
The following campaign, 2018-19, was when Williams really began to prosper. He featured for the Reds’ U18s, U19s and U23s that season. He was also an integral member of the squad who lifted the FA Youth Cup, holding his nerve to convert his penalty against Man City as Liverpool defeated the Sky Blues in the shootout.
He stepped up to the first team ahead of the 2019-20 season, featuring in a number of pre season friendlies for Liverpool, before making his official debut in the Carabao Cup game with Arsenal in October.
Williams put in a sublime performance on the night, assisting Divock Origi’s goal to make it 5-5 as the Reds went on to triumph over the Gunners on penalties.
He travelled with Klopp’s side to Qatar as they lifted the FIFA Club World Cup before he starred in the FA Cup third round defeat of Everton in January in which the majority of Liverpool’s starting XI were aged 22 or under.
He started both cup ties against Shrewsbury in the next round and had a hand in the winning goal. His fizzing cross forced Ro-Shaun Williams to head the ball his own net as Liverpool progressed to the fifth round.
He played the full game as Liverpool suffered a 2-1 loss to Chelsea. His Premier League debut followed after lockdown, with Williams coming on for the final fifteen minutes in the 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace and almost scoring, lashing an effort just off target in a lively cameo.
He would go on to feature against Man City and Aston Villa, before making his first Premier League start against Brighton.
Two further appearances against Burnley and Newcastle on the final day of the season meant that Williams played enough games (six in the top flight) to earn a Premier League winners medal as Liverpool wrapped up the title with 99 points.
Whilst on Liverpool’s pre season trip to Austria it was announced that Williams had signed a new 5 year deal with the club, a reward for his terrific transition into the first team set up last year and he will be hoping to continue his upward trajectory this term.
He started the Community Shield loss today Arsenal at the end of August, deputising for Alexander-Arnold who was out injured, and Williams will be hoping to provide strong competition for the Englishman this campaign as Liverpool attempt to hold on to their Premier League crown.
Williams is a marauding full back, made very much in the same mould as Trent Alexander-Arnold, a fellow Kirby graduate. He is quick, strong in the tackle and has an eye for a pass, with his crossing ability particularly impressive even at his young age.
He is solid defensively and wins many of his aerial duels. His positioning sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, as seen in the Community Shield when he stood off Aubameyang allowing him to curl a splendid effort into the far corner, although this should only improve with experience and learning from the likes of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson in training each day.
Jürgen Klopp is certainly a fan of what he sees from the Welshman and is keen to utilise him this season with Liverpool competing on four fronts.
He told Liverpool’s official website last month:
“Neco from the first day he trained with us, he trained like a machine. Every day he became better and better and better and I thought, ‘OK, what’s that?
“He has a lot of things that we really like so I am really, really happy that he signed the contract.”
Many at Liverpool believe Trent Alexander-Arnold’s future lies further forward, in a centre midfield role, and if Williams can reach the dizzying heights Trent has reached in just a few short years, that transition may be made sooner rather than later in order to accommodate both of Liverpool’s prodigious talents.
Williams isn’t looking too far ahead despite the hype surrounding him, aiming to keep his feet firmly on the floor and enjoy the great memories which this week has provided him.
Speaking to BBC Sport after the game Williams said:
“To learn off the best players in the world for club and country is something that a young lad like me has always dreamt of.
“I’ll keep improving as a player and keep showing the dedication, I’ll stay humble and if all that comes together I’ll be a top player.”
Williams certainly believes in his ability and with a committed attitude like that to match his talent he could be the next Liverpool great to step off the production line.