- Tactical Analysis
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Rahul Warrier writes a detailed scout report about Athletic Bilbao’s talented youngster, Inaki Williams.
Most well-tuned football fans around the world are well aware of the uniqueness of Athletic Club, based in Bilbao. Their cantera policy has reaped rewards throughout the tears, producing the likes of Telmo Zarra to Javi Martinez, Fernando Llorente and Ander Herrera in recent years. The philosophy of Bilbao is defined by this quote: “con cantera y afición, no hace falta importación”, which translates to “with homegrown talent and local support, you don’t need imports”. Their rivals Real Soceidad have moderated their Basque policy in recent years, but Bilbao remain well and truly Basque. One of their latest gems is a forward born to African parents but naturalized in the Basque country, having spent his own life there. Despite his connection to his roots, he feels well and truly Basque. Despite being black, he is well and truly Basque. He is Iñaki Williams, the latest star to emerge from the famed Bilbao academy.
Born to a Ghanian father and a Liberian mother, Iñaki Williams was born in Bilbao on 15th June 1994. He has been part of the Bilbao set-up since 2012, previously playing for sides in Pamplona. With Andre Ramalho setting the path for him by being the first mixed-race player to play for Athletic in 2011, he rose quickly through the youth side, plundering goals for the B-side Bilbao Athletic. He got his chance in December 2014 when main frontman Aritz Aduriz was injured. He quickly established himself in the set-up, scoring in a Europa League game versus Torino to become the first black player to score for the club. With the Golden Boy Iker Muniain out for a long-term injury, Williams became the first choice right-winger and a fan favourite. Ever since, he has not looked back and has jumped from strength to strength this season, linking up with the evergreen Aduriz to bag 12 goals and 2 assists already. At 21, that is a superb tally to have while still in mid-February. He signed a contact extension till 2021 in January 2016, increasing his buyout clause to 50 million euros, which will dissuade most EPL clubs from making a move for him. Already part of the Spain U-21 team, if he keeps up this form, he may get a surprise call-up for the Euros, which will truly establish his meteoric rise in the past few years.
Even though Williams has been playing as a right-winger, he is in essence a dynamic forward playing out wide to accommodate Aduriz. His characteristics reveal that he is playing out of position but he is coping admirably as a winger despite his infallibilities in that position, most notably his passing accuracy and his ability to cross the ball. This weakness in passing and crossing has led to a very low number of crosses this season (2), a surprising statistic for a winger. Williams prefers to cut inside and dribble, with his pace and power allowing him to win the ball in the box and convert. This accounts for 9 goals already this season, a high number for a traditional winger. His strength lies not in passing through the defensive line but rather to dribble through the defence and create gaps and holes in the backline for his teammates to pick at. His intelligent movement and raw speed makes him a real threat for the opposition left-back and a possible nightmare to mark given that he usually cuts inwards. His final ball is still a slight weakness, something which will need some work on.
His footwork, in particular, is the real deal. He can swivel, pull off stepovers amongst a variety of skills. His goal against Espanyol was sublime, to put it mildly, as he noticed de Marcos with the ball and hence made a run, remaining onside as the pass was made. Despite the rather poor pass, he managed to flick the ball over the Espanyol defender before swiveling and smashing the volley into the goal. His conversion of a very tough chance to a goal was superb to watch, and only added to his ability to create chances out of nothing.
Williams’s ability to play centre-forward will pay dividends in the near future given that the 34 year-old Aduriz is getting no younger. When he retires, Williams will be the obvious replacement, and given the dearth of alternatives in the current Bilbao side, he is likely to get playing time in the middle when Aduriz is not playing. He virtually plays a supporting striker drifting into the wing, bursting through the defence as they are occupied with the most physical Aduriz. The combination of pace and physical prowess that Williams and Aduriz bring to the table makes them a tricky proposition to face. His finishing is a part of his repertoire which he has honed this season, something which has taken his game to an additional level. He remains sharp and enthusiastic off the ball, always searching for the probing pass or the glaring gap. He has been a breath of fresh air into the team and has taken over the role from Muniain with aplomb. One can only wonder how Williams will be in a few years time.
At this stage there will be plenty of clubs, most particularly in the EPL, who will be able to afford him. There had been plenty of interest in him leading to the contract extension. However it is unlikely he would move away to a foreign nation when he has been developing at a club he truly belongs at and are playing well. If Bilbao can make it to Europe again, why wouldn’t he want to stay? The fans adore him, he is well settled and he is still young. Bilbao are known to demand the most they can get for their players, which is justified given the dearth of replacements in the market, shown by the money they got for Javi Martinez and Ander Herrera. However it is likely Bilbao will sell only one out of their two diamonds, Williams and Laporte.
Stability is important for a young player at this stage of his career and a stay at Bilbao will be crucial for his development. Stability breeds success and Williams will only go upwards if he can maintain his performances now. He will eventually get a call-up from Spain. A move to the centre may also arise for Williams given Aduriz’s age, and if so it will only pave the way for a future move to the Premier League. His explosiveness will prove most effective deployed in the centre. Williams has a long way to go but his rapid rise to the top has put him on the notebooks of scouts across Europe. He may move anywhere in the future, but he will always be truly Basque. One to watch out for.
Written by Rahul Warrier.