Wales international Neco Williams has spoken about his World Cup hopes with Wales and how Jurgen Klopp, who he regards as the best manager in the world, prepared him for his Liverpool debut.
Wrexham-born Williams, who has family links to Porthmadog, was speaking at a McDonald’s Fun Football session encouraging children aged 5-11 to make their grassroots debuts.
Neco’s father Lee is from Porthmadog originally and his grandfather Richard Williams (Dic Union) lives in the town.
The Fulham defender currently on loan from Liverpool is calling on parents to give children their ‘grassroots debut’ this spring at McDonald’s Fun Football sessions taking place across the country – so they can fall in love with the game, just like he did as a kid.
Williams took part in a Q&A session:
How important has your family been in getting you to where you are today?
If my parents didn’t put in the commitment when I was young, I wouldn’t be where I am now. My mum, dad, and my granddad they all had to take me to and from Liverpool for training four times a week. And that’s a massive commitment. It was an hour’s drive each way just so I could get to training. So, they played a massive part in my career so far.
What was it like leaving home at 15?
It was difficult, I’ve always lived at home, I’m a real family person. To move at such a young age was hard, it’s almost like you get a new family, and you have to adapt to their rules. But you do eventually adapt and luckily, I was with another lad, so we had each other and that really helped. We became good friends and that really helped me.
I noticed that you have blessed written on your wrist would you say that factors into your mentality?
I’ve got a lot of tattoos and they are all meaningful. I’m lucky to be playing football at this level and I think that comes down to hard work and improving every single day. That tattoo reminds me of how lucky I am, so I keep pushing to try and get better each day.
What was it about Fulham that attracted you?
Right now, I just want to play football week in and week out. I want to play as much as possible and gain as much experience as possible, and so far it has definitely helped me. I’ve improved as a player and getting promoted is a nice one to put on the CV!
It’s been a great loan, but I’ll be going back to Liverpool in the summer, feeling like a more mature player and definitely an improved player.
Did Harry Wilson play a role in helping you settle into life at Fulham?
Having him there has made it 100% easier. When Fulham were interested, I gave him a quick call and spoke about their plans and he couldn’t praise the club enough, and he dragged me in. It’s been a massive help, I played with him at Liverpool and at Wales, so I know the kind of player he is, and I know him well. He got me settled in with the team and helped me get to know them all. If you look at his stats as well, what he’s done this season is incredible. Being nominated as the Championship player of the season, just shows his ability and shows what quality he has.
Who was the first to welcome you to the training ground?
It was Harry Wilson. It was a long journey down, I got to the training ground gave him a call and he came out, met me and then bought me into the ground.
What did being promoted to the Premier League feel like?
First and foremost, it’s that experience of winning with a great group of players, which is hard to replicate. I’ve won the Prem and hopefully I can go on to win the championship now. I have gained a lot of experience in a short amount of time. I’ve gone from starting a Champions League game against AC Milan and beating them 2-1 to playing Barnsley. So I have gained quite a lot of valuable and varied experience at such a young age.
How important is Aleksandar Mitrović to Fulham if they are to have an impact in the Premier League next season?
Mitrović is an absolute goal machine, if you look at his stats this season, the number of goals he has scored it is unbelievable, I doubt I’ll even score 40 goals in my whole career! It’s always good to have someone like him in your team. Having a goal scorer like him in your team makes it easy for us, we know he’s going to be there in the box so as long as our crosses are accurate then he’ll be there to finish it off.
As a young player in a dressing room, what’s it like to have those big characters around you to help in your development?
The big characters in the dressing rooms are always important. It is normally the senior lads with the most experience. You don’t really get the young lads being the big ones in the changing rooms.
At Liverpool, you’ve got the likes of James Milner and Jordan Henderson. They’re the characters in the changing rooms who will tell you what’s what.
In Fulham we’ve got Tim Ream, when you look at his stats, the number of games he’s played. It’s incredible. And I’m just looking to do what these people have done, learn from them and hopefully make appearances like they’ve built up.
Are you still in contact with the Lads from Liverpool?
Yes 100% I’m closer to the younger lads, I’m in contact with them, when they see me scoring, they send me little jokes, we have a bit of banter, as I’m not known for scoring. One of the assistant coaches text me congratulating me on the promotion with Fulham, which was nice.
Looking back at Liverpool when did you know you would be making your debut for Liverpool?
A few days before we started doing shape work and I seem to be in starting 11 in that shape work. So, I had an idea but no one told me that I was starting and I was just thinking to myself ‘this can’t be true’.
Then Klopp came up to me and said, you’re starting tomorrow. Before the game he gave me a little pep talk saying ‘Listen, don’t worry about it. You’ll probably be nervous but that will stop when that whistle goes, and you’ll be completely fine’. And that’s exactly what happened as soon as that whistle goes you just completely focus on the game.
Jürgen Klopp seems like a remarkable man, what’s he like day to day?
Obviously, he is one of the best managers in the world. You see it now with what Liverpool are doing and what he’s done with players to transform them into who they are now.
With the players he has bought in and how he has improved those players is phenomenal and he’s the best coach I have ever worked with. What he has done to players especially this season and how he transforms them into the players they are now is incredible.
Where do you see your future? Is it being a Premier League player?
Yes 100%, I want to be a Premier League player. For me, I think it’s the best and the toughest league in the world. And you always want to be playing against the best players in the world, you always want to play in the best league in the world. For me, that’s the Premier League and that’s what I want to do with my career just to play as many games as possible in the Premier League.
It’s been a rapid rise for you, but looking back to your Wales debut – your family must have been incredibly proud and who was first in line for a ticket to the match?
It was during Covid restrictions so there were no fans! They were all crowded around the TV at my parents’ house. I don’t think they could believe it when I scored the winner, and neither could I to be honest.
What does it mean to you to play for Wales?
It means absolutely everything to play for the badge on the shirt. Every time you step out onto the pitch in that shirt is exciting. I’ve always had the Wales kits when I was little and to be able to wear one of the senior ones now is an incredible feeling.
It’s even more special because my mates all support different clubs, but whatever happened they are all Wales fans so they can watch the game together and support me.
Do you look back at the debut and have any learnings from it?
I always watch games back and review my performances. I like to analyse them and have done this since I was young. If I’m busy, then my dad will always help and send me clips of the good and bad stuff.
Do you look forward to going to camp as well?
Oh 100%! I think international camps now are not what they were like back in the day. We all look forward to meeting up. We are like a family. It is important to be like that as now all the games we play in are massive games. We probably have one of the biggest games of our careers coming up, so we are all excited to be involved.
From the Wales team, whose debut has impressed you the most?
The squad we have now is unbelievable, we have world class players like Aaron Ramey and Gareth Bale. We have some younger players establishing themselves and there is always competition so it’s an honour to be in the squad. I honestly couldn’t pick just one. The whole squad impresses me.
The atmosphere at Cardiff City Stadium during the Austria game was incredible. Does that spur you on during the long qualifying campaigns? How do you stay motivated as a squad?
It’s a cliché but we take it game by game. Gareth showed what he is capable of, and he showed his talent once again - they were unbelievable goals. We know he has that in him, so it wasn’t a shock to us. Playing in front of the Welsh fans is incredible and they are like our twelfth man. We must perform for them and qualifying would mean so much to the whole Welsh nation. We are one game away from a World Cup.
Do you think getting to a World Cup would encourage even more children to make their grassroots debuts?
I’ve always dreamt of playing at a World Cup since I was little, and you don’t realise how hard it is to get there. We’ve never been so close before in our lives. We are going to give everything we can to get there. Playing at the World Cup will be a huge boost to the whole Welsh nation and will hopefully inspire others to get playing.
McDonald’s is encouraging children aged 5-11 to play football in their FREE sessions. What would be your message to parents thinking about attending a session?
Having seen the McDonald’s Fun Football session and after speaking to the coaches it was great to see the level of coaching the kids get and I wish I had that when I started out. The McDonald’s sessions are fun and free and that will make a huge difference to families. When I was in the Liverpool academy, my grandparents used to drive me for hours to get to training and I can only imagine how much that cost. That’s why it’s so important that these sessions are local for boys and girls to take part in.
- To give your child their grassroots debut and for the latest information about McDonald’s Fun Football sessions which provide free football for children aged 5-11, visit McDonalds.com/Football and follow @FunFootballUK on Twitter and Instagram.
If you’d like to help shape how that may look and secure some free credits if we do go live then please register here.
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