Nottingham Forest has continued recruiting in a bid to avoid an immediate return to the Championship, adding Liverpool’s highly-rated Neco Williams. The youngster joins Forest on a long-term deal for a fee of £16m, becoming the club’s sixth summer signing after Taiwo Awoniyi, Moussa Niakhate, Dean Henderson, Giulian Biancone, and Omar Richards. The Welsh international is expected to fight for the right-back role vacated by Middlesborough’s Djed Spence, who is now on the brink of signing for Tottenham after finishing his loan term at Forest.
Williams expressed his desire to get started immediately when the deal was made official:
“I’m really excited to join Nottingham Forest and to help this great club move forwards in the Premier League. Forest are a club with incredible history and the City Ground is a very special venue that I can’t wait to experience in full voice in the coming weeks.”
In turn, Forest manager Steve Cooper had positive things to say about his new signing:
“Despite being only 21, Neco has established himself in the Wales starting XI. He’s played in the Premier League, the Champions League and in World Cup qualifiers in the last 12 months and he is a very talented right back. We believe that he’s got an incredibly high ceiling and that he can play a huge role for us at Nottingham Forest in our return to the Premier League. We’re delighted to have him on board.”
Neco Williams was born on the 13th of April 2001 in Wrexham, Wales. He is the first son in a family of five children. His three sisters are all professional dancers, while his brother Keelan is a right back who recently switched from Liverpool’s academy to Burnley as he looks to complete his scholarship.
Williams joined Liverpool’s academy at the age of six and has progressed through the ranks over the years. The Welsh international has represented Liverpool at U18, U19 & U23 levels, and at the UEFA Youth League. Williams was sidelined for a year when he picked up a serious injury, missing the majority of the 2017-18 season. But he gradually worked his way back to reclaim his place in Liverpool’s youth team that won the 2019 FA Youth Cup.
Like many others, Williams didn’t begin his career as a defender:
“I think it’s worked out quite good for me because when I was little I used to be an attacking player. I used to play on the wing or as a striker. Over the years I’ve developed and become a right-back, which has worked out very well for me with the way the game is now. Full-backs now are more attacking, and at a club like Liverpool, with the way the boss wants us to play, have to be able to attack, so it’s a massive opportunity for me.”
William’s impressive performance at the youth level fast-tracked his progress to the senior side. He made his debut for the Reds’ first team on the 30th of October 2019 in an EFL Cup match against Arsenal that ended in a 5-5(5-4) penalty shoot-out victory for the Reds. Williams played an important role in the match, providing the assist to a last-minute goal for Divock Origi that sent the match to penalties. He was also part of the Liverpool squad that won the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup.
Williams’s family has played a huge role in his career. They have been his primary support since his early days at Liverpool’s academy, and they still remain a strong support structure to date. Says his father, Lee:
“We’ve followed him all over the world in tournaments when he was a youngster. We’ve been to Tokyo, Qatar, Switzerland, loads of places”
Following his debut season, Williams has found himself in and out of the Liverpool side. Williams made his Premier League debut on the 24th of June 2020 in a match against Crystal Palace, shortly after the league returned from its three-month Covid pause. He went on to make enough appearances to earn a league winner’s medal when Jurgen Klopp’s side won the 2020-21 EPL title.
But with one of the world’s best right-backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold, ahead of him in the pecking order, Williams ultimately went in search of regular pitch time elsewhere. The Welsh international joined Championship side Fulham on a six-month loan on the 31st of January 2022. He made 14 appearances for the Cottagers and scored his first senior club goals of his career when he netted twice in a 5-1 victory over Swansea City.
How Will Neco Williams Fit In At Nottingham Forest?
Williams isn’t a traditional right-back in the vein of an Aaron Wan-Bissaka; rather, he’s explosive and never scared to try to beat the man in front of him. Combative and forward-thinking, he is always looking for ways to push ahead, create half-spaces to cross, or combine with a teammate to create chances. In fact, in this regard he is a lot like his Liverpool counterpart Alexander Arnold.
His lack of regular game time or a consecutive run of games at Liverpool means we have only his 14 appearances at Fulham plus his national team performances for Wales to analyze his style of play and how he might settle in at Nottingham Forest.
Although a natural right back, Williams can also play as a wing-back or left back. Indeed, due to the presence of Connor Roberts in the right back position for Wales, Williams actually fills the left-back role for his national team. As a left-back, Williams is adept at cutting inside to his favored right foot and combining with teammates or having a crack at goal. He sometimes plays an inverted midfield role as he is mostly given the task of single-handedly manning the left flank.
While at Fulham, Williams quickly adapted to a new environment and style of play. The Welsh international dominated the right wing behind Welsh teammate Harry Wilson, who played as the right-winger. They quickly formed a partnership that proved pivotal to Fulham’s return to the Premier League. Wilson ended the season as the Championship’s assist leader with 14, while Williams contributed two assists in his 14 appearances for the club.
His best performance for the Cottagers came in the 5-1 victory over Swansea in which he scored his first two senior professional goals. The first was a simple finish after the ball ricocheted into his path, but the second was an absolute thing of beauty. He cleanly struck a full volley from outside the box after a nice chest control. Four goal contributions in 14 games in a new club and new division is no mean feat for a player still coming to terms with senior team football. For your viewing pleasure, here’s that screamer against Swansea.
For all his talent and potential, his inexperience means there are aspects of his game still to be ironed out. Although he excels going forward, this has also proved to be an area of liability. Williams, like many other young players trying to make an impression, tends to take on too many gambles. His difficulty determining when to play a simple pass or risk a 1 v 1 was a major reason Klopp often preferred more experienced players like Joe Gomez and James Milner whenever Alexander-Arnold wasn’t available. Williams also needs to improve his positional decision-making regarding when it is safe to bomb forward and when he should stay at home to protect the defense.
These are common faults among young players who are still trying to find their feet in senior football. With regular game time and proper guidance under the stewardship of Nottingham Forest manager Steve Cooper, Williams should eventually iron out these deficiencies in his game.
Steve Cooper’s philosophy is grounded in a strong defense, evidenced by the fact that Forest conceded the fewest goals in the Championship last season. He typically sets up his side in a 5-3-2 formation that often transforms to a 3-4-3 when his team wins the ball. Once Forest is in possession, the three center-backs maintain the rearguard while the wing-backs fly forward to join the attack. When possession is lost, the wing-backs recover to restore a back five.
Cooper’s fullbacks play a huge role in his offense, so much so that 78% of Forest’s attacks last season came from the flank. Djed Spence and Jack Colback played as wing-backs for the majority of the season and contributed 16 goal involvements. However, as mentioned above, right-back Spence joined the team only on a six-month loan from Middlesborough and has since returning to his parent club. This leaves Williams with Richie Laryea and Guilian Biancone (recently signed from Troyes for £8m) as his competition for the team’s right-wing back spot.
The amount of money forked out by Nottingham Forest and the acceptance of Liverpool’s sell-on clause shows that the club rate Williams highly, which points toward first-choice status for the youngster. And Steve Cooper’s system, which gives wing-backs freedom to bomb forward, is perfect for Williams’ explosive attacking style of play.
Forest’s impressive defensive record in the Championship and Steve Cooper’s reliance on attacks from the wings mean that this season Williams could generate fantasy returns at both ends of the pitch. Priced at a mere £4.0m, he looks a rare gem: a minimum-cost defender who offers two-way return potential and security of starts. At the very least, that is sure to make him a ubiquitous FPL bench-warmer.
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