Iñaki Williams “I Feel And Love Athletic More Than Anything Else”
With Aritz Aduriz out with a knee injury it was up to Iñaki Williams to step up and lead Athletic’s attack. The forward did very well, scoring three goals in January, and was honored with the La Liga Player of the Month award on Thursday for the first time in his career. The trophy will be presented to the 24-year-old before Sunday’s game against Barcelona by champion boxer and Athletic fan Kerman Lejarraga.
“The individual recognition is thanks to the collective effort of the whole team”, Williams told Mundo Deportivo. He wanted to make it clear that his teammates have played just as big of a role in earning the award as he did. “I’ve had a pretty good month but it’s because the whole team has taken a step forward and I think we are in a good dynamic. I’m thankful for the award, but it’s an honor for the whole team and the effort that we have all made together.”
In an interview after the announcement of the award Iñaki said this has been one of the most difficult seasons since he joined the first team. The players took it personally when Eduardo Berizzo was dismissed, but the forward admitted that it was for the best because the team is doing much better under the leadership of Gaizka Gairtano.
“This season has been one of the most critical moments I have experienced since I joined the first team. Before everything went very well, except for Valverde’s last year. Now we have experienced difficult times. The dismissal of a coach is never good for the players because you feel responsible, especially if you had a good relationship with him. It took a change and the truth is that the arrival of Gaizka has been for the best. We are in a better dynamic, the sensations are different, we don’t give our opponents many chances, and we are more dangerous in matches.”
Looking back to last year Iñaki stated that Kuko Ziganda earned the opportunity to coach the team even though it didn’t work out in the end. He’s still very thankful to the manager who gave him the chance to prove himself at Bilbao Athletic and says that he’s always had fantastic support from the people in his life.
“I was delighted with Kuko. He called me up to Bilbao Athletic and I have always stood out because of all the work he did in the lower levels. He deserved the opportunity. Things did not go well at all and those above decided for him to not continue. There have been many bad times, but football is like that. When you do well everyone pats you on the back and when you don’t there is very little support. I’m lucky to have family, friends, and teammates who have always been by my side and supported me. In the end it’s tough because you always want to do well but I’ve had some bad luck of not finishing chances.”
During January Iñaki scored a brace in a 2-0 win over Sevilla which ended his streak of 770 days without scoring a league goal at the San Mamés. He told Mundo Deportivo that during the long run it was very hard to cope with the failures but that he managed to handle it well and it will make him stronger.
“At the time I was thinking that it just wasn’t working at all. I was embarrassed to go out on the streets or come to training, but in the end this is football. You learn from it, you live from it, and the criticism and all that makes you stronger. It’s difficult to cope because you always want to score goals or give assists. I had chances and failed and I know the San Mamés felt worried because it had been so long. When you get to the first team they prepare you for this. It was hard but I managed to handle it all.”
The mental aspect of football is often the most important thing for a player. Williams said that it was the hard work and constant support that helped him put an end to the streak. He was very happy to finally be able to celebrate a goal at the San Mamés again.
“In football a player has to be strong mentally and get all the negative thoughts out of your head. That makes you stronger in the day to day. After so much time without scoring I took that burden off against Sevilla. I really wanted to go back to celebrating a goal at the San Mamés so it felt good. In the end it was the daily work, the effort over a long time, the power on the shot, and the people who feel proud of you. Above all it was nice to be able to tell my family, friends, and my teammates, who have seen me struggle and have always been there, that I’ve finally scored again and feel like a football player and feel loved in the San Mamés.”
Durability is also something that has characterized Iñaki’s career. The striker has featured in 103 consecutive league games for Athletic and will tie legendary player Jesús Garay on Sunday. If he continues on this path he could eventually match the 132 game streak of Carmelo Cedrún.
“I am proud to have played over 100 consecutive games in the league. It seems like yesterday I was making my debut and now it’s 103 games in a row. It’s not something that is accomplished every day and it’s thanks to the effort, to the hard work, and to the Mister who has trusted me. Although I haven’t scored a lot of goal, I always try to perform and help the team. It takes a bit of luck too. I’m lucky to have the genetics of my parents. I had some injuries when I first got to the first team, but it was sporadic. I take good care of myself so that I cam be available for every match and the truth is that I’ve been lucky with injuries.”
When asked about his future at Athletic the Lezama product once again gave a glimpse into his heart. He said Athletic is where he has always wanted to be and that he wants to break records at the club and become a legendary reference that future generations will look to like José Ángel Iribar. Iñaki was proud to see his best friend Iker Muniain sign a contract renewal without a release clause and says that he would be willing to do the same.
“I have always said that I am very happy here, that I am where I want to be. I have more than teammates, I have friends in the team and in Bilbao. I feel very loved and valued. I have always dreamed of being here and the truth is that I dream of being here for many years. For me it would be a dream to beat a lot of the records here, score a lot of goals here, and end up being a legend like Txopo. Renewals like Iker’s make people see that they still believe in the feeling and it makes the younger ones see what Athletic means. I would be willing to do the same because I feel and love Athletic more than anything else. I am very grateful to Athletic.”
Seeing Markel Susaeta reach 500 appearances for Athletic was special and Iñaki stated that he’s proud to be a teammate of such a legendary player. The 24-year-old praised his captain, saying that Susaeta has earned the right to be counted among the all-time greats for Athletic Club.
“When I see Susaeta I always tell him that I am very proud to be a part of his team, that he is my captain. People have been very unfair to him, a player who has more than 500 appearances and there is always that hum in the San Mamés. If he has played so much it’s because he deserved it and he is a legend because he is one of the best players that Athletic has ever had.”
Iñaki Williams has already made history at Athletic. From being the first black player to ever score a goal for the club to playing in 103 straight league games, he’s accomplished a lot for a 24 year old. He loves Athletic dearly and wants to become a reference for the younger generation and spend his entire career at the club that has given him, and his family, everything. For Iñaki it’s more than just football and Athletic is his home.