Paige Williams: Why England youth international chose the Italian dream

Paige Williams (left)
Paige Williams (left) won the Women's Serie A and Coppa Italia with Brescia in 2015-16

You would probably not expect the words "it took me 17 hours in a Fiat 500" to be followed by the phrase "the best decision I ever made".

And history might suggest that 'English footballer wins European league title' is also something of a foreign concept.

But, after a bold and unusual move to Brescia in 2015, former Everton Ladies left-back Paige Williams has enjoyed fine success, winning two major trophies last season.

And now, after a summer switch to Verona for another year as a full-time Serie A player, the 21-year-old has gained further Women's Champions League experience and has her sights on the England senior team.

But moving to Italy did not come without some interesting challenges.

"The first few months I thought 'I can't handle it, I can't understand a word they're saying'," the England Under-23 international told BBC Sport. "The coach didn't speak English.

"I was standing at the back of the line in training, just so I could watch to see what was going on. Then I had a few Italian lessons, things got easier and you just sort of fit in.

"My Italian isn't too bad now - if you can imagine a Scouse Italian, what that sounds like - I can get by and have a conversation now."

Paige Williams (left)
Williams (left) reached the Champions League quarter-finals with Brescia last season

Williams - one of only two British players currently in the Women's Serie A along with Scotland and Tavagnacco striker Lana Clelland - helped Brescia win the title by five points last season.

She has no regrets about her life-changing decision to leave Merseyside - even if she arrived in rather less glamorous style than England number one Joe Hart when he joined Torino on loan in August.

"I packed my life up and I drove here from Liverpool," she continued. "It took me 17 hours, in a little Fiat 500. It was the best decision I ever made."

Everton boss Andy Spence, under whom the left-back says she learnt a great deal, recalls Williams having early intentions to nurture her talents on the continent.

"Paige always had that ambition to play abroad, even when she was 13, 14 years old," he said.

"She is now fulfilling that ambition and the style of football seems to suit her."

A horror injury

Having played 35 matches at various youth levels for England, Williams has long been seen as a potential future star, but her career took an unwanted twist in 2013 when she required an operation on a serious anterior cruciate knee ligament injury.

"I'd never even pulled a muscle. I thought I was taking care of myself. Then, during training, it went," she recalled.

"Through all the rehab, Andy Spence was unbelievable - he was there every day, motivating me and was fully supportive."

She recovered in time to play for England at the 2014 Under-20s World Cup, in a squad that included winger Nikita Parris - now a senior international player.

Paige Williams (right)
Williams (right) was part of the England Under-19 side that reached the final of the 2013 European Championships, seen here scoring a penalty in the semi-final win over Finland

So, having impressed alongside England's brightest young stars, why leave the Women's Super League for Italy?

"I knew that, if I wanted to compete with England or push on that little step further, I needed to be full-time," said Williams.

"In Italy they're so tactical. We do tactics for at least 30-40 minutes every day. That was a part of my game I needed to work on."

After her relatively trophy-laden first season in Italy, Williams contemplated a return home, but eventually opted to join title-rivals Verona for 2016-17.

"I'm always looking to challenge myself and leave my comfort zone, so either way I was always going to try and leave Brescia, as amazing as it was," she explained.

"At Verona, we've got Spanish, German, Dutch, Greek and Swiss players too, so it is quite a mix.

"So I'm not the only one who isn't fully speaking the language - we're just learning to gel together and want to win the league and the Coppa Italia."

Verona are third in the table after their first five league matches of the season, but exited this term's Champions League after a 4-2 aggregate loss to BIIK-Kazygurt of Kazakhstan in October.

Saturday's 5-0 win over Luserna - in which Williams netted her second goal of the season - means her side are just three points off top spot.

Paige Williams
Williams made her senior debut for Everton Ladies in 2013

In the future, a return to the WSL could be on the cards for Williams, who is part of England's 'Next Generation' squad.

"My main ambition now is I want to make the next step with the national team - the seniors is in sight," she said.

"Playing in England will be the first move in making that become a bit more of a reality, because they can watch me every day there.

"While I'm young, I think I've gained so many valuable experiences from being abroad."

Spence added: "I'm sure at some stage she'll be back over playing in England again but she'll be a better player and a more rounded and enhanced person for her experiences."