Why Crystal Palace's Jonny Williams Should Ignore Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United
Scotland v Wales on a Friday night sounds like a coming together of two stag do's in Ljubljana, but I can assure you in this instance, it's not what I'm referring to.
It's about Crystal Palace's Jonny Williams. He's been called up for the Wales senior squad for the third time and looks set to finally make his full debut against Scotland on Friday night at Hampden park. The breaking news is that David Vaughan and Joe Allen are out of contention, leaving a William's sized hole in the middle of the park.
Many would say this opportunity represents a 'coming of age' moment, which if he gets significant minutes on the pitch, it could well turn out to be. But a competitive international cap for a 19 year old is only ever a sign of significant contribution through club ranks, and what a remarkably consistent rise we've witnessed at Selhurst Park in our very own 'Joniesta'.
Waxing lyrical about your own academy success story is a predictably moribund approach, reeking of a pungent self-lauding dirge but entertain if you will this small attempt to provide a pragmatic analysis of Jonny's potential – before the red-tops go all headline-mental over Palace's new miniature midfield maestro.
To bring you up to speed in tabloid terms; Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are watching his every move, he broke his leg for Wales U21's and was inspired back to health by Aaron Ramsey's experience, his wide-eyed youth team peers coined the nickname 'Joniesta' and he has such impressive vision and awareness, you wouldn't want to play him at Battleships.
We should avoid cliches, though, about sixpences and the like because Joniesta deserves better. Truly. Perhaps Ian Holloway's observation that 'little Jonny Williams is like a plastic bag in the wind' conjures up the right image. Yes, that's much more like it.
What we have in Johnny Williams is the new driving force behind Crystal Palace's forward line. Diminutive, unassuming yet as authoritative as a young 5' 6" playmaker can be. Passionate and driven but humble with a premium repertoire of ball skills. Emerging from Wilfried Zaha's shadow is our efficient, erudite number 20.
His key position is 'in the hole' but William's ball retention and decision making capability has seen him utilised in wide positions as well as sitting deeper in midfield and even being left free to roam. He just doesn't give the ball away cheaply, something you have a built-in allowance for with teenagers learning their trade. Added to his armoury is a distinctive slide tackle which in one clean swoop and in the blink of an eye, renders him wholly horizontal to the pitch in tandem with a neat hooking of the ball. He then swiftly returns upright, comfortably back in possession – without a hint of danger to the opposition player. It's the kind of tackle which in the heat of the battle sees fans turning to each other with a mutual nod of approval.
If this is all true and he's about to break on to the international scene, at only six months younger than Zaha it can't be long until the vultures swoop you may say? There's a good argument for that, however there's also signs to suggest that Williams will stick around:
1 - Zaha and Clyne's career trajectories are examples to learn from.
Palace have learnt from Clyne's Bosman-esque departure by handing Williams a similar 5 year contract to Zaha, giving the club greater control against outside persuasions. With only 42 first team appearances to his name, Zaha will have over 100 more by the time he departs for Manchester United. Jonny's just getting warmed up.
2 - Wales will continue to pick players outside the Premier league.
Owing to a smaller talent pool it's a given that the Welsh manager will always consider players from the second tier. No need for concern in terms of William's international aspirations then, unlike how it was for Zaha. The current Welsh manager also happens to be trusted Palace alumni, which can't hurt. You only have to look at Ben Foster's England return to see how club relationships can influence the international stage.
3 - The Championship is now a good home for the mobile midfield maestro.
The Premiership has always been the domain where such players thrive thanks to their technical superiority and provision for adequate protection from referees. Fabregas, Nasri, David Silva and Jack Wilshere to name those at the top of the tree. The Championship trend for the 4-2-3-1 formation, which Palace have adopted amongst others, allows for a double defensive midfield insurance policy behind emerging players such as Williams. Together with a declining trend for hit-and-hope football, the Championship is finally progressing into more expansive territory. Will Hughes at Derby and Sam Byram at Leeds being other good examples.
4 - An old head on young shoulders with a little work still to be done.
Jonny Williams temperament is exemplary, balancing a fine combination of wanton desire with measured calmness. He came on at Vicarage Road in front of the Sky cameras to dominate the midfield and help Palace come back from 2-0 down to rescue a vital point, winning Man Of The Match in the process. He visibly grew into the team that night. If we can add a few more goals and assists to his game, the Premiership and beyond will eventually be all his.