Iñaki Williams, the Bilbao native of African origin who is a legend at San Mamés

Inaki Williams LaLiga Santander mid-season African MVP

LALIGA Iñaki Williams, the Bilbao native of African origin who is a legend at San Mamés

Ayoola Kelechi 15:34 - 01.02.2023
He had participated in all LaLiga Santander matches since April 2016, but an injury meant he had to sit out the team’s game at RC Celta on Sunday

Williams’ story is a unique one. Born in Bilbao on June 15th, 1994 to a Ghanaian father and Liberian mother, he grew up in neighbouring Pamplona and started playing for local teams in the area. 

Since he lived far away from the complex, teammates would take turns at bringing him to training and Williams remains grateful for the support he received from those teammates and the various coaches and directors who helped him along the way. 

He was so talented that Athletic Club took notice while Williams was playing in Pamplona and he was soon incorporated into the club’s Lezama academy.

Playing for the Basque side’s B team, Bilbao Athletic, Williams really stood out and first-team coach Ernesto Valverde was so impressed with what he was seeing that he handed the youngster his first-team debut against Córdoba CF in December of 2014, aged just 20. 

A few months later, in February 2015, he netted his first goal for the team by scoring against Torino in the Europa League.

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Before long, Williams had become Athletic Club’s talisman in attack, complementing Aritz Aduriz perfectly. 

By scoring big goals in big moments and by causing problems for opposition defences every time he produced one of his trademark sprints, Williams was key in the various successes enjoyed by Athletic Club over the following seasons.

In the boardroom, they believe in Williams too and, in 2019, he penned a nine-year contract that will run until 2028, a commitment rarely seen in modern football. 

At the time, no other player in LaLiga Santander had a contract that ran that far into the future, but Williams and Athletic Club are a match made in heaven and they want this special bond to continue.

“I have always said that I am where I want to be,” he stated as he signed his new deal. “It’s a matter of pride for me to be linked with this great club for so many years, a club that has given me everything. Athletic Club always believed in me, and this is my home.”

Since the start of this season, Williams has taken on a greater leadership role for the team. He has notched five goals in 18 LaLiga Santander matches, throwing an assist into the mix too, and played a part in 24% of all of his side’s goals.

 He has also provided two assists in the Copa del Rey, leading his side to the semi-finals for the fourth consecutive year. 

This season he also lived his boyhood dream of playing at the World Cup, representing the Ghana at Qatar 2022. “I feel the moment has come for me to find my origins within myself and with Africa and Ghana, which means so much to me,” he said after his first call-up. 

He continues to go from strength to strength. Yet something very rare happened in LaLiga Santander this past weekend, as Athletic Club played a league game without Williams. 

Physical issues meant the Ghana international was left out of Ernesto Valverde’s squad list for their Matchday 19 clash with RC Celta, so Athletic Club started and finished a LaLiga Santander match without the presence of Williams for the first time in almost seven years.

As such, he leaves his impressive record of consecutive LaLiga Santander appearances at 251. He had made history back in October 2021, when he played for the 203rd consecutive matchday in a game against Deportivo Alavés. 

Inaki Williams can now put his feet up and admire his LaLiga record

That moved him into first place in the all-time rankings, over the legendary Real Sociedad player Juan Antonio Larrañaga, with the longest streak of consecutive games in all LaLiga Santander history. The former record of 202 games was set in 1993.

Williams’ incredible run began against Atlético de Madrid. He returned from an injury to play against Los Colchoneros back in the 2015/16 campaign, on April 20th 2016. 

After playing the final five matches of that season, he played in all 38 of Athletic Club’s games in 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19, 2019/20, 2020/21 and 2021/22, as well as the first 18 fixtures of the current campaign. 

In other words, there hadn’t been an Athletic Club LaLiga Santander match that didn't feature Williams for almost seven years, since a 1-0 win over Málaga CF all the way back in spring 2016. 

It takes good health and a clean disciplinary record to set a consecutive appearance record like his, but it also requires the unwavering confidence of a coach – or coaches. 

Over the period of Williams’ 251 LaLiga Santander matches in a row, he had five different coaches and everyone consistently named him on their team sheets: Ernesto Valverde, Marcelino, Gaizka Garitano, Eduardo Berizzo and Cuco Ziganda.

At that time, Real Madrid only had won 10 Champions League trophies, the Spanish National Team was still the current European champion, Erling Haaland was still playing in the reserve team of Bryne FK, Stranger Things had not yet been released, and the president of the United States was still Barack Obama… and, in all this time in which the world has changed so much, Iñaki Williams hadn’t missed a single Athletic Club match in LaLiga Santander. Until last Sunday.

  • The Athletic Club striker has won the LaLiga African Mid-Season MVP Award.

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