Neco Williams: Wales youngster aims to seize Liverpool chance

Neco Williams
Neco Williams was part of the Wales Under-19 side who beat Poland 3-0 at Newport's Rodney Parade on Wednesday

It may not be viewed as the ideal scenario for a young defender trying to find his feet at Liverpool.

Whenever Neco Williams steps out for training, the Welsh right-back knows there is a decent chance he will end up marking one of the world's best forwards, Sadio Mane.

"It's hard," a smiling Williams tells BBC Sport Wales. "Let's just say that."

Evidently, however, the 18-year-old from Cefn Mawr near Wrexham is doing a decent job.

He has an admirer in Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard and was handed a senior debut by Reds manager Jürgen Klopp last month.

Williams played the full 90 minutes as Liverpool drew 5-5 with Arsenal - the Reds won on penalties - in the Carabao Cup at Anfield.

It was a moment to treasure for a player who began training with Liverpool aged six and opted to sign for them rather than Manchester United when he was nine.

"To make your debut for Liverpool at Anfield - it's a dream come true," Williams says.

"The day before the game the manager came up to me and said you are starting - he gave me the 'Jürgen talk'. He said to enjoy it, play with a smile on your face and be confident.

"He is a great manager. People can see that from how well Liverpool's first team are doing. To top it off he gives youngsters an opportunity."

The Liverpool side featured senior players such as James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Divock Origi and Naby Keita, while Arsenal included the likes of Hector Bellerin, Sead Kolasinac and Mesut Özil.

The Gunners seemed set to win an extraordinary game 5-4 until the fourth minute of stoppage time, when Williams crossed from the right and Origi levelled the scores.

"I saw on the clock in the top corner of the stadium that there was a minute to go," Williams recalls.

"The ball came to me and I was thinking this has got to go to someone if we are going to win the game. Luckily it went to Divock and he scored."

Williams, who is currently with the Wales Under-19 squad, is happy going forward having previously played as a number 10 or winger.

He has been converted to a full-back in Liverpool's academy, just as 21-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold was.

Liverpool's England starting right-back is the example Williams aims to follow.

Neco Williams and Jürgen Klopp
Neco Williams hugs Jürgen Klopp after impressing on his Liverpool debut against Arsenal on 30 October

"I look up to Trent because he was at the academy from the age of six or seven, the same as me," Williams says.

"I watch videos of Trent. When I train with the senior team I try to watch the things he does and then work on them.

"He has gone through all the stages and now he is classed as one of the best right-backs in the world. It shows that with hard work and dedication it can happen."

The likes of Alexander-Arnold and Mane are a big influence.

"I am mostly up against Sadio in training because I am a right-back and he plays on the left," Williams adds.

"It's the best way you can learn, playing against these top-class players. They help you and guide you through. It helps a lot - senior players telling you when you do well or when you can do better."

Rangers manager and ex-Liverpool captain Gerrard is another who made an impact on Williams' young career.

Gerrard coached Liverpool Under-18s in 2017-18, a campaign which was ruined for Williams by a serious back injury diagnosed in the first few days of pre-season.

After seven months out, Williams returned to play under Gerrard for the first time in an FA Youth Cup tie against Arsenal. His contribution was described by Gerrard afterwards as magnificent.

Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard was in charge of Liverpool Under-18s before taking over as Rangers manager in the summer of 2018

"He said it to me face to face and in the interviews after the game," Williams says. "That was pretty special."

The immediate priority for Williams is this week's round of Uefa Under-19 qualifying games.

Wales made a fine start by beating Poland 3-0 on Wednesday and face Russia at Cardiff's Leckwith Stadium on Saturday before meeting Kosovo in Newport on Tuesday, 19 November.

"It's a big thing playing for Wales," says Williams, who has been part of the national set-up since he was 12.

"All my family are Welsh and all my mates. Every time you put the badge on you have got to show how much it means to you."

The long-term goal is to be capped at senior level, but Williams will focus on making further progress at Liverpool first.

"I have been training with the first team for a couple of months straight and hopefully that will carry on," he says.

"When an opportunity comes, I have to show what I am about."

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