Ashley Williams: Wales skipper ready for fight to return

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Ashley Williams: Wales' vegan captain wants more caps

Wales captain Ashley Williams is keen to get back into Ryan Giggs' side, but says he faces a battle to do so.

Williams, 35, was left out of the Wales squad for their last Euro 2020 qualifier as he was a free agent.

The ex-Swansea and Everton defender has since signed for Bristol City and made his debut at old club Stoke, ahead of Saturday's meeting with the Swans.

"Everyone knows how passionate I am about Wales and how much I enjoy playing for them," Williams explained.

"I love it there and would like that to continue for as long as possible.

"First and foremost my focus is on Bristol and what we need to do here and off the back of that then if that puts me in a position to get back playing for Wales then brilliant.

"I didn't expect to be called into the squad when I was unattached, but [boss Ryan Giggs] did say that if I got sorted and I was playing then I would still be back involved and captain."

Competition fierce for skipper

Williams trails only Chris Gunter and Neville Southall in terms of Wales caps for the men's side and admits it was tough to be a spectator as Wales narrowly beat Azerbaijan 2-1 to retain their hopes of reaching Euro 2020 after being beaten semi-finalists at Euro 2016.

Boss Ryan Giggs fielded a new central defensive pairing of Swansea's Joe Rodon and Bournemouth defender Chris Mepham, who performed well.

St Pauli defender James Lawrence is also vying for a spot, while Williams' long-time Wales partner, Aston Villa defender James Chester, is also back in training after a long injury lay-off.

Williams knows competition is now fierce at the back for Wales where record-appearance-maker Chris Gunter is also now no longer an automatic pick at right-back.

"I think it is really good the players who have come in - James Lawrence, Joe Rodon, Chris Mepham - have done really well," Williams told BBC Sport Wales.

"Of course, I want to play as many games as I can and be captain and everything else, but for all of us, we have got competition across the board now and at centre half we are quite strong.

"Joe Rodon I think is a great lad, I know him well from when I was at Swansea and I really tried to help him.

"We have a good relationship and I was pleased to see him make his debut and the fact he is doing well for Swansea is pleasing for him."

A reunion with Swansea was 'never on'

Williams, whose home debut for Bristol City comes against Swansea on Saturday, spent nine years with the Welsh club, becoming an integral part of the side that rose through all four divisions to reach the Premier League.

The Wales skipper is still appreciated at the Liberty Stadium after leaving for Everton in 2016, but says there was no prospect of a return under new boss Steve Cooper.

"I have warm feelings for the club, I played for them for nine years and I was a big part of something that we did which was massive for the club and for all of us involved," he explained.

"I will never forget those times, they were probably the best times in my career in terms of the whole period.

"I know most of the people down there, most of them are the same people and I have still got loads of friends there and it is a city I lived in for nine years and I loved it.

"A return to Swansea wasn't an option in the summer, not really, not that I knew about, it wasn't ever something that was spoken about."

Williams admits the fixture list has produced a real quirk of fate for him personally after making his City debut at Stoke, where he spent last season on loan.

"You couldn't make it up for me personally, it's strange, but it's interesting and especially with the first one being Stoke, the team I have just immediately left and seeing all those faces at the weekend at the stadium I played at all last season.

"We got through that one and now I am playing against Swansea, so it is strange how the fixtures have fallen and I suppose why not? I can try and get up and running as quickly as possible."

Fitter at 35 than at 32

Williams has spent two weeks working on his match fitness but insists he has been helped by a conversion to a vegan diet.

"I watched a documentary 'what the health' and thought I'd give it a go," he said.

"It was more a case of 'that made me feel a bit sick' so I thought I would do it for four weeks and then within two weeks I'd lost weight and looked a lot better and had way more energy and more clarity in my thoughts.

"As I continued to do it I felt a lot better, I didn't need a nap which is typical behaviour for a footballer and I was sleeping better as well.

"It works for me and feels normal now. It was a big change at the time.

"I won't wave a vegan flag, but for myself, it has worked for me.

"I feel better for it, I feel better now at 35 playing football than I probably did at Everton when I was 32. I am full of energy.

"I am not sure I would be playing, or in the shape I am now, if I hadn't gone this way with my diet."