Ashley Williams: What next for Wales captain as Everton deal expires?

Ashley Williams and Wales manager Ryan Giggs
Ashley Williams was used as a substitute by manager Ryan Giggs in his latest appearance - his 85th - for Wales
Euro 2020 Qualifying Group E: Croatia v Wales
Venue: Stadion Gradski, Osijek Date: Saturday, 8 June, 2019 Kick-off: 14:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales & BBC Radio Cymru, the BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

Wales captain Ashley Williams is excited about the future as he considers offers at home and abroad.

Williams, whose Everton contract expires this month, is open to all possibilities after spending last year on loan at Stoke City.

But for now he is concentrating on the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Croatia and Hungary - and on regaining his Wales place.

"We have two really big, difficult games," Williams, 34, tells BBC Sport Wales.

"I am just focused on them. I don't want to be on international duty on my phone talking about where I am going next.

"I will do my best in these two games. After that there will be a bit more holiday time and then I will really sit down and see what comes next."

Williams is in the unfamiliar position of not knowing where he will spend his pre-season.

A stalwart for eight years at Swansea City, he joined Everton on a three-year deal in 2016.

He played 73 times in two seasons on Merseyside before joining Stoke on loan last summer.

"It's the first time I have got to the end of a contract in a long time," Williams says.

"It's not something I'm worried about - I am just excited to see what comes up.

"My agent says we have got good options abroad and here.

"I haven't ruled anything out yet - we'll decide when the time comes. At the moment it's just business as usual."

Williams hoped he was signing up for a promotion push when he joined Stoke, who began last season as favourites to win the Championship.

Yet it proved to be a difficult year for the Potters, who finished a disappointing 16th as they struggled to re-adjust following relegation from the Premier League.

Nevertheless, Williams was pleased to rack up 37 Stoke appearances, particularly after suffering a collapsed lung and broken ribs while on Wales duty in May 2018.

"It wasn't a great season for Stoke City - we struggled as a team - but I enjoyed it," Williams adds.

"I didn't miss many games and we were third in the league for clean sheets, which you always look at as a defender."

Wales players having fun during a training session
Ashley Williams (left) has formed a solid backbone of Wales' team alongside players like Joe Allen, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey

The English second tier is renowned as a test of endurance, but Williams coped with the physical demands of dropping out of the Premier League.

No thoughts of retirement

The centre-back's durability has been apparent throughout his career and, though he will be 35 in August, he feels as a strong as ever.

"You get the physical stats every day after training and I am always up with everyone else," he says.

"I feel fine - there have been no thoughts of retirement at all.

"Whether it's Premier League, Championship or international football, I love to play the game."

Williams' desire to continue playing at the highest possible level has had an impact on his life away from the training ground.

"It doesn't take me longer to recover after games or anything like that, but I do look after myself a lot more than I did 10 years ago or even five years ago," he explains.

"When you are younger, you are not really thinking about resting, recovering or eating the right thing.

"But I do think about all that now. These days I play football, look after my kids and rest and that's it. I think that stands me in good stead."

MLS club DC United have been linked with Williams, and the 85-cap star will consider leaving Britain.

"I have played here my whole career, it's what I know, but I am not opposed to anything," he says.

"All the bits you would normally consider will come into it - on the pitch, lifestyle, what kind of deal it is."

Wales manager Ryan Giggs believes game-time will be key to Williams' next move.

"I've spoken to Ash about this," Giggs said last week.

"He's got a lot of offers and opportunities. He enjoyed it last year because he was playing and playing regularly. That's all footballers want.

"That will be top of the list on whoever he chooses - playing regularly."

Targeting a starting place in Croatia

Williams' immediate target is to feature against Croatia on Saturday and in Hungary three days later.

Wales' skipper since 2012, he came on as a 73rd-minute substitute as Giggs' team began their Euro 2020 campaign by beating Slovakia in March.

He now has eyes on a starting place.

"100 per cent," Williams says.

"We had a training camp last week and I trained as hard as I can.

"I didn't start the last game. That was after probably the only period last season when I hadn't played for four or five games at Stoke. The gaffer made that call.

"After Slovakia I think I played in every game for Stoke and I feel good fitness-wise. Everyone knows what it means to me to play for Wales."

Chris Mepham and James Lawrence began at the heart of defence against Slovakia, but Williams' experience may be useful as Wales play two testing away games.

"We have got some really good young players in our squad, but I am not sure they will have seen anything like Croatia in Osijek at first-team level," Williams says.

"It is going to be a very difficult game for us and Hungary will be too.

"But these are games we have to get results from if we're going to get where we want to be in the group."