With no Swansea games this past week, I’ve instead turned my attention to my second footballing love: my beloved home nation, Wales. No complaints from me though, as it seems to be going well recently – an understatement if ever there was one.
My lifetime has been devoid of Wales playing in a major tournament. In fact, it has been 57 years without tournament football. 57 whole years. Our maiden and only voyage into the world of tournament football came at the World Cup in Sweden in 1958. It would be Maesteg-born Arsenal winger Dave Bowen who would have the honour of the captaining the Red Dragons out in Sweden and a sterling job he did too, seeing Wales all the way through to the quarter finals, where they would eventually be knocked out 1-0 by Brazil; the goal was scored by a 17-year-old Pele – his first ever World Cup goal.
Now Wales are on the brink of qualifying for Euro 2016 in France and the current Welsh skipper can take a hell of a lot of credit for helping Wales ascend to the top of their group and up to the heady heights of the Top 10 of the FIFA rankings (and most likely into the Top 5 soon with recent forecasting). Take a bow Ashley Williams: Captain Fantastic.
A glance at the list of club captains in the Premier League and you will find it hard to select a more perfect skipper than Williams with him being a natural leader for club and country. Since he inherited the captaincy from the current gaffer Garry Monk – who handed it to Ash when his own game time was reduced massively following the Swans’ promotion – he has virtually not put a foot wrong.
It’s well known that many of the club’s players look up to Williams with some publicly coming out to praise the skipper. Young Spanish defender Jordi Amat for one has expressed how he has learned from Williams. It was also noticeable how much more composed Amat looked when playing next to Ash when the Spaniard has been called upon to play – especially compared to when he would play alongside the maverick that was Chico Flores during his two years at Swansea. Anyone who has witnessed Swansea play ‘in the flesh’ will notice Williams’ constant dialogue and instructing of his team-mates around him; a true vocal captain.
Williams is not just an inspirational figure in the Swansea dressing room – he’s not a bad player too you know. In fact, he’s very, very good. It’s crazy to think now, but Swansea signed Williams from Stockport County in 2008 for a mere £400k after an initial loan deal. Since then, they have got unwavering service out of the Welshman (well, he’s actually from Wolverhampton) with Williams being virtually ever present since the day he signed; a testament to his fitness and the commitment he puts into looking after himself, as well as a superb disciplinary record, which has seen him rarely miss a game through suspension.
In good news for Swans fans too, Williams’ form remains remarkably consistent, even as he ages. He’s never been slow, but Ash has never been lightning fast either and so his legs are nothing to worry about. Williams favours shrewd positioning over recovering with speed. Last season, Williams made the second most interceptions in the Premier League and already this season he finds himself towards the top of the pile in regards of interceptions. Plus, anyone who has seen Williams’ most recent showings for Wales will know that Williams will put his body on the line repeatedly; at times he resembles an impenetrable brick wall when attackers take aim at goal.
Throw in his scandalously underrated range of passing and you begin to wonder is Williams not only one of the Premier League’s finest captains, but just one of the league’s finest centre backs. The sad thing is that many might consider this an overstatement, purely because he is so modest as a person and unassuming with the way he goes about his business; unlike certain other defensive ‘leaders’ in the Premier League. You will not meet many humbler footballers off the pitch.
One of modern football’s greatest fairytales has been the rise of Swansea City and it is probably fair to say that Ashley Williams’ arrival at the club has helped fuel the rise from the third tier to Premier League football, as well as European football, in the space of six years. Now Ash is about to enter the history books again (probably), as the captain who is to lead the Welsh national team out of international wilderness and into the throngs of a major tournament. I could not think of a more perfect captain leading the club I love and the nation I love.