Neco Williams knows how to enter a room.
He was a long way from a household name when he was named in the Liverpool team to face Arsenal in October, but over the course of a frantic 90 minutes he turned in a vibrant, arresting performance that had us all asking where the hell Jurgen Klopp found him. He assisted Divock Origi's dramatic late volley, and by December he was on a flight to Qatar with the first team.
Klopp was blown away by his rapid emergence onto the scene, and making that sort of impact is fast becoming a habit of the 19-year-old's. Ryan Giggs brought Williams into the Wales camp for their opening Nations League matches, and was left near speechless by what he delivered.
"Neco comes on the other night and he was fantastic and it was the same today," Giggs told Sky Sports after the 1-0 win over Bulgaria. “He has got loads of quality. He has got confidence in his ability and he’s a great lad. He has brought new energy to the group. He showed that in both his cameos in both the games.
“I was umming and ahhing whether to start him today because of the performance he put on the other day, but to come on and, not only his goal, but his overall play was fantastic. So, delighted for him.”
'Cameo' perhaps doesn't do it justice, because if the victory over Bulgaria was a movie, then Neco was the star of the show. Deep into stoppage time, with his side looking set for a frustrating point, he manufactured the game's decisive moment, forcing his way into space at the back post and powerfully converting Jonathan Williams' floated cross.
It's fairly safe to say that, just over a year after debuting for Liverpool's Under-23 side, he has now graduated from youth football altogether. He made as many appearances for the club in his breakthrough season as Ben Woodburn has to date (11), but while there may be fears he could burn out in a similar manner to his Wales teammate, Williams' emergence seems more cautious and more natural.
There is an element of necessity to the seniority he is taking on, but he won't be an automatic starter any time soon. Trent Alexander-Arnold, just two years his senior, is immovable from the right-back spot, while his chances at left-back will be non-existent now that Andy Robertson has an understudy in Kostas Tsimikas.
Squad player and relief option may have to suffice for now then, but in 2020/21, the demand for that type of player will be greater than ever. Helpfully, the typically congested fixture schedule will be crammed into nine months rather than the standard ten, as English football plays catch-up following the coronavirus crisis, meaning Klopp will have to be more economical than ever about how he uses his established players.
Williams' comparisons to Alexander-Arnold are unavoidable for obvious reasons, but he is a distinctly different type of right-back, something Klopp will be acutely aware of. He shares a position with the stylish, sophisticated Trent, yet in terms of his attributes, he has more in common with Robertson.
Like the Scotland captain, his industry and energy are his primary assets, and he's at his best when exploding down the right to cross from the by-line, rather than penetrating with a 50-yard pass from inside his own half.
Williams presents an interesting tactical option and, as he develops, there may be games where his spin on the position is the preferred option.
Most players, at 19 years old, in a specialist position with one of the best in the world ahead of them in the pecking order, are still waiting for any sort of opportunity to make their mark. Williams has earned his, both for club and country, and now stands on the verge of a season that could truly make him.
A couple more stoppage time winners and he'll be well on his way.
Source : 90min