It was a sight to behold. 60,000 Basques rose in unison to acclaim their new hero as he left the field after helping to defeat, and potentially dethrone, Real Madrid.
“Iñaki, Iñaki” rang out around the New San Mames.
The object of their adulation? Young Iñaki Williams, a 20-year-old who is making the headlines in the Basque region thanks to a series of barnstorming displays.
San Mames has a new hero
After delivering another performance of real gusto, this time against the champions-elect, it was only proper that he should receive such exaltation.
Athletic will do well to hold onto his services if he continues to put in performances like the one against Los Blancos and perhaps with that in mind, they have already increased his buyout clause from €6m to €20m.
€20m release clause is merited
Williams had already garnered attention earlier in the season of course, when scoring against Torino in a 2-2 Europe League draw.The reason? The goal meant he had become the first
black player to score for Athletic Club de Bilbao in 117 years of their history.
Not that he would wish to be defined by that one act. And not that he will be either if his showing against Madrid is the barometer for which we should measure him.
Like his parents, Williams is no stranger to hard graft and his industry has already endeared him to the Athletic faithful. Without a doubt, he’s taken the chance afforded him by Ernesto Valverde with both hands.
But that shouldn’t really come as a surprise because Williams has been ticking all of the right boxes since joining the club a decade ago.
The coaches at Lezama, Athletic’s famed academy, would often marvel at the young man’s ability and were as certain as anyone could be that, eventually, Williams’ natural talent, coupled with his propensity to learn and to work, would reap appropriate reward.
Bilbao academy delivers the goods again
At 16 he was given the opportunity to make the step up to senior level. A loan to Basconia, a local feeder club for Athletic followed, as the player continued his education.
Eventually he would return to play a starring role in Athletic’s B team, scoring eight in 14 games.It’s there he would’ve stayed but for injuries to first-team regulars and his continued good form in the reserves.
He simply could not be held back any longer, and Valverde’s hunch has been proved correct. Williams was announced to the wider public just before Christmas in a 45-minute cameo against Cordoba.
A sign of just how quickly he has risen into the consciousness of La Liga connoisseurs is that the game against Real was only his 12th in professional football.
Yet he’s already shown enough in those dozen games for the supporters to realize that Iñaki Williams is a star in the making.
With Athletic’s delightful Basque-only policy ensuring that only those born in the locale will play for them, Williams is one of their own.
It can be a smothering experience, but the flip side is that there is a real identity between players and fans.
Williams had better get used to the hero-worship.