From playing alongside Dele Alli to making the semi-finals of UEFA Euro 2016, George Williams has experienced an immense amount in his footballing career at just 22 years old.
However, the glaring omission from the former Fulham player’s resume is the presence of consistent first team football; the most senior appearances Williams has ever made in a season to date were his 20 matches in 2014/15.
This summer, the Welsh international marked the latest chapter in his whirlwind journey by moving to Forest Green Rovers of League Two in a bid to find stability, play regular football, and possibly even return to the international scene.
Williams sat down for an exclusive interview with The Boot Room in the stands of The New Lawn, reflecting on his time at Fulham, recalling his Welsh exploits, and describing his initial impressions of Forest Green.
The Sky Bet League Two club’s most distinctive feature may be its emphasis on environmental causes, and Williams admits he wasn’t too knowledgeable about that aspect beforehand— but insists the vegan food is quite alright.
“Obviously the thing that sticks out is the whole vegan football club. I didn’t know too much about what being a vegan meant and the reasons behind it, but to be fair the food’s been great.”
Before experiencing the culinary delights on display at Forest Green, Williams started his career in the MK Dons academy. He came through the youth ranks with Dele Alli, and has fond memories of his early days in Milton Keynes.
“We had a great team and we had a manager at U-14 level through that wanted to play good football. It was good to play with young players at that level, as we all wanted to be the best and that made for a good competitive environment.”
“The moment [Dele Alli] joined you could tell he had something different, he was an incredibly talented young footballer. You knew from that moment he was going to go on to play at the highest level, and he’s doing that now.”
In 2012, Williams moved from MK Dons to Premier League side Fulham. But in his six years by the banks of the Thames, the midfielder made just 17 senior appearances for the club. Nevertheless, he only has good things to say about his time in SW6.
“I can only take positives away from it. I joined the club as a 16-year-old and I got to play for the first team at Craven Cottage.”
Williams recalls a successful spell during Fulham’s 2014/15 campaign, when he was playing regularly and the Whites were on the brink of making a play-off charge. Unfortunately, a combination of injury and change in manager the following season derailed his good form.
“Kit Symons was the manager, and I remember a time if we had won a game we were going to move into just outside the playoffs… I was injured, there was a change of manager, he brought in his own players and I came back from injury trying to get back into the team— it was hard.”
Yet, despite an injury-filled spell that featured four loan spells, the highlight of Williams’ career—his international success with Wales— came when he was on the books at Fulham. The attacking midfielder made his debut against Holland in 2014 and was part of the squad that made the “amazing” run to the Euro semifinals two years later.
“It’s memories that I’ll have for the rest of my life. It was 60 days away in France, and it was an incredible experience to get to the semifinal.. by the end of it we were thinking ‘Hold on we could go all the way here.’ It wasn’t to be, but semifinalists at the Euros was an incredible achievement and I’m very thankful to be a part of it.”
When asked who has had the biggest influence on his career, Williams doesn’t hesitate before crediting Chris Coleman with a major role in his development. The former Wales manager placed his trust in the youngster, Williams said, giving him priceless opportunities to further his ability.
However, his last appearance for the nation came in March 2016, and with new manager Ryan Giggs at the helm, Williams has been frozen out of the Welsh set-up. He said his move to Forest Green is a bid to change that, and Williams remains confident he can put himself back in the Wales conversation by playing regular football.
“I don’t see why [I can’t get back in the Wales set-up]. I don’t see why if I get playing here and playing good football, being on the pitch and doing well, I don’t see why not. That’s ideally what I aim to do, I aim to get back into that Wales squad and hopefully I can do that.”
Williams has enjoyed a transitory career path to date, and when asked where he sees himself in two years time he ponders his answer.
“Either playing for Forest Green Rovers and getting promoted with them…,” he starts to answer before pausing for a moment.
“Just playing football really, that’s all I want to be doing. Playing football at the highest level I can, and hopefully that could be with Forest Green Rovers, and if not, wherever. I just want to be playing football.”
The desire to simply play football is a sentiment that can be understood for a player who has never had a full season of senior football under his belt.
And at the weekend, Williams made his Forest Green debut away at Grimsby Town, starting on the left wing as the club notched a 4-1 win.
At 22 years of age, George Williams appears primed to enjoy consistent football at Forest Green Rovers, granting the Welsh international a chance to finally fulfill his plentiful potential.