Iñaki Williams “We Are The Team Of The People”
Iñaki Williams is a talisman in Bilbao. Along with being the only black player to ever score for Athletic, the 26-year-old is a fan-favorite at San Mamés and wants to go down in history as one of the best to ever wear the shirt. Williams has had the luxury of playing and training with legendary striker Aritz Aduriz for years and is working hard to enjoy similar success during his career.
“For me it’s been like having a master to play with Aduriz,” Williams told Nacho Labraga of Marca. “He’s been our banner, our goal man. He created danger, scored from crosses, and gave me a lot of freedom even though I played out wide. Now I would like to become the reference and do it the way he had for all these years. I hope to be remembered as he is when my career is over. I would love to be able to put my name together with legends. I will strive so that all the work and effort I’ve dedicated because of my love for this club remains in memory.”
When asked what areas of his game need to be improved, Williams immediately pointed out the one that he’s always worked on with the help of Aduriz. Heading has never been his strength, but he believes he can do much better.
“The area that I most clearly need to improve is headers, which is where Adu always tried to help me. I see it as a gift, whether you can do it or not. I will never be a specialist like him, but I will try to score four or five headers every season. We play a lot on the wings at Athletic. Crosses come in and I have to try to score. I would like to be able to score many goals with the help of my teammates. I also feel comfortable playing as a second striker. I want to do more and keep growing.”
Williams was playing well enough to be in the conversation to make the Spain squad for EURO2020. The tournament was postponed until next summer and he would like to earn his place between then and now.
“I want to be in the next EURO, of course. When I see my name related to the Selection it’s beautiful. Hearing the possibility makes me happy. I want to debut in an official match. I will do everything possible to make it difficult for the coach by scoring many goals.”
Having become a prolific player in La Liga, Williams has had several offers from other clubs over the years. Despite the interest, the forward still has no plans or desire to leave Athletic.
“My thought is that I was born in Bilbao by chance. My godfather is named Iñaki and I am too. Since I was little I’ve had the feeling of Athletic and it’s something I’ve known since I was a child. I’m where I want to be and I’m very happy. Here the fans love me and I feel respected and valued. Hopefully I can finish my contract in Bilbao and stay even longer.”
When it comes to playing for Athletic, Williams is honored to put on the shirt. Like many other young boys from Bizkaia he’s living his dream
“It’s a pride and a responsibility. We are the team of the people and we’re lucky to be able to represent them. Going down the street and being encouraged by everyone is wonderful. We’re the dream of the kids from Euskadi who love the team and would pay to play. We have to do well for them.”
Williams may have no plans to depart Athletic, but others have left the club in the past. The forward isn’t sure if anyone will return at some point, though he still has a close relationship with Kepa Arrizabalaga.
“I don’t know. They decided to leave and I wish them the best. I get along very well with Kepa. We go on vacation together and have dinner when we can. We spent many happy moments together, but we have the goal well-covered because Unai has been an incredible goalkeeper. I hope he gets called up by Spain.”
Apart from ever wearing another shirt, Williams also can’t imagine calling any stadium other than San Mamés home. “It’s unique because there are no other fields like San Mamés in Spain, and I dare say none outside the country either,” he said. Williams was also quick to defend the club’s choice to postpone the Copa del Rey final until fans can safely attend.
“We decided to play the Cup final with our fans and it will be a highly contested derby. People who can go will really enjoy it. Hopefully we can take out La Gabarra. We don’t want to disappoint. I look forward to taking out La Gabarra with the whole team, but it will be very difficult.”
With the Cup final not being played until season Athletic must finish in the top seven to qualify for Europe. The Lions have been in excellent form since the season returned and are determined to continue climbing the table.
“We really wanted the season to resume because that means we would be winning the battle against Covid-19. There are some games left and we have to try to cut the points to get into Europe. It would be that nice finishing touch after that hard stretch.”
Athletic currently trail seventh place by a mere two points, but will be hard-pressed to get a positive result against Real Madrid. The first meeting ended in a scoreless draw and Williams is confident that Athletic can do it again.
“We got points from them in the first round of matches. In this type of game you always grow. We put out a good version and we know that we can harm them. This Athletic can beat anyone and we’ve shown it.”
Williams dedication to Athletic is partially built on his experiences growing up. As the son of emigrants Williams saw his family struggle from a young age and is happy to give his parents a better life today.
“One of the hardest moments that marked me the most was the day that, coming home from school with my brother, my mother had to work and left us some food. I went to heat the food that she left and the electricity had been cut off. It didn’t work. We were a very humble family where my parents had to work hard for us to have the future that we have now. Being able to get that contract to help my family was one of the key moments in my life.”
A difficult upbringing pushed Williams to reach his dream of playing for Athletic as a professional footballer. Now his parents no longer have to work because Williams can repay them for sacrificing so much when he was a child.
“More than pressure, I used it as motivation. Being able to give my family that life we deserved gave me a lot of joy. I wanted my parents to not have to work. That’s why I’ve been so hungry for improvement and to become the player I am. After so many years working I told them that I didn’t want them to keep working. My mother continued but now she’s getting older. She has back problems and she retired. My father is helping set up a school for the kids in my town.”
Iñaki isn’t the only great footballer in the family. His younger brother, Nico, has been promoted to Bilbao Athletic and the pair hope to one day play together at San Mamés.
“Nico has the qualities to do well. He will need to take advantage of his moments and it will depend on him. I always tell him that no one is going to score for him. He must strive and work like an animal every day so that in the future we will be teammates.”
Williams has been given many nicknames during his career, including Pantera, but most call him Pañaki. “When I joined the first team I had a good relationship with Iker. He gave me the nickname and my teammates picked it up. I like it. Some coaches have called me that too.” Iñaki Williams is living his childhood dream, but now he hopes to help Athletic qualify for Europe and bring the Copa del Rey title back to Bilbao.