On the face of it, you’d be forgiven for wondering why the club has bothered. Dig a little deeper, though, and Liverpool’s logic starts to shine through.
At 19, Rhys Williams is at an age by which most young prospects have already made their mark. Yet, we’ve seen very little of the Preston-born youngster as he remains nowhere near the first-team.
The central defender was out on loan last season and made 26 appearances for Kidderminster Harriers of the National League North. While I mean no disrespect to the Worcestershire-based side, it’s not exactly a placement which screams future superstar.
So why exactly have the Reds given the Englishman another long-term deal just 12 months after offering him his first professional contract?
Well, despite his lower profile and relative inexperience for someone his age, Williams is highly-rated by the coaching staff at Kirkby and has been tipped to be one of the youngsters who could play a key role in the first team in the coming years.
One of his fans is Reds legend John Barnes, who name-dropped Williams alongside Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones as someone who could be at the forefront of the club’s future successes once they have fully graduated into the first team.
Now is as good a time as any for him to be getting closer to the senior side. Dejan Lovren has left for Zenit St Petersburg and there has been little evidence so far to say that he will definitely be replaced. With the injury records of Joe Gomez and Joël Matip not exactly making for pleasant reading, there is every chance a youngster may be called upon to step up in the coming season.
The fact Williams spent last season on loan in England’s sixth-tier shouldn’t be the only measure of whether he might be ready to step up if needed. Despite a slower start to his senior career than he might have liked, his pedigree in the youth teams paints a more promising picture.Embed from Getty Images
Since joining Liverpool as an u10 player, the centre-back has consistently been at the forefront of his age group and played a major role in the FA Youth Cup success in 2019 under Barry Lewtas.
And while his time in Kidderminster may not have seen him play at an especially high level, what it did do was hasten his maturing process – as attested to by one of his coaches at the time, the youngster adjusted with aplomb to the chastening experience of playing alongside bonafide men.
Russell Penn – Harriers’ assistant manager at the time – has told of how Williams overcame early struggles to become a “really big part” of the club.
“He played every game. He struggled the first month and made three mistakes that cost us three goals but he held his hands up for all of them and I think that was the making of him,” he told the Liverpool Echo in May.
All this came after he broke his nose in an early game against Darlington, and admitted to Liverpoolfc.com that he “headed 15 balls per half” during his loan spell.
It may be true that Penn’s positive feedback to the club played a role in the decision to extend Williams’ deal and place that faith in him.
Displacing the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez is no mean feat, and he has plenty of competition among the youth ranks too. Ki-Jana Hoever, Sepp van den Berg and Billy Koumetio are among the rivals who Williams must outshine in order to stake a claim for a senior spot.Embed from Getty Images
The new contract will give him a renewed confidence that he has the ability and the opportunity to do exactly that. Liverpool know that instilling confidence in a player with ability is the quickest way to turn them from prospect to star.
And even if he doesn’t quite make it at Anfield, the new deal will push up his market value to ensure the club can make more money from any potential future sale, which helps in terms of transfer incomings.
Either way, this new contract for Rhys Williams serves a useful purpose. Chances are it will turn out to be a shrewd move on the club’s part.
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