RedHanded meets Ashley Williams
Wales are close to qualifying for a first major championship since 1958. Riath Al-Samarrai talks to captain Ashley Williams about the campaign so far
RedHanded: It’s looking good, right?
Ashley Williams: Absolutely. We couldn’t be much happier about things, I think.
It’s strange to think that the result in Andorra may have been pivotal – fail to win there and the pressure grows on the team and Chris Coleman as well. This campaign would have had an entirely different complexion if Gareth Bale hadn’t delivered some magic.
It was very important that we got off to the right start and there was pressure on that game. You are playing a team that is going out to stop you and the pitch was not good. It was a really tough pitch and everyone expected us to win. But we came through that and it has set us up going forward. We needed to win and we won, which is the most important thing.
How do you assess the campaign so far?
I think it’s been nearly perfect, to be honest. A good start was important and that is what we have done. If you look at it, we have not always started very well in campaigns so that was a big focus for us. We have managed to do that and we are where we want to be. There is a long way to go but we have given ourselves that chance. I think a big part of it is that we are not conceding many. And we have won away from home as well. Those are big in any campaign so that is pleasing. Just about all the targets we set ourselves we have achieved so far. But qualifying for a tournament is such a big deal – we have a long way to go and no-one in this squad is getting ahead of themselves.
Are you consciously thinking that the side could be about to make history?
It’s been a great campaign. I haven’t been in this position before and neither have the other guys. We all have the goal in the back of our minds and we would all be incredibly proud to achieve it. But we have a long way to go.
Chris Coleman drew some flak earlier in his tenure but obviously has got the team going very well. How do you find him to work with?
Very good. I think he has a huge amount of support from the lads. He came into the job in extremely difficult circumstances (after the death of Gary Speed) but he has handled things brilliantly. There was a period of adjustment when he came in but we always had the feeling that he was doing everything he could for us as a squad. Likewise, we have been doing everything we can to help him. He has been good for a good squad and I think the results are showing that. We are in a great position at the moment. We could achieve something very special as a group and it is all in our hands. That is a good position to be in. We are all extremely focused on what it is we have to do, believe me. We have a very good group of players but more than that we have a very good attitude in the squad.
Winning has a habit of helping team spirit.
There is a good togetherness about the group. It is like a group of mates and that helps when it comes to meeting up after we have been with our clubs.
It also helps having Gareth Bale.
He is a top player as everyone knows. It is a huge advantage having him in the team. We know that if we can keep things tight in a game then he can do some magic at the other end. That is great for a team.
He has drawn some criticism recently for his performances in Spain.
I don’t watch a huge amount of La Liga matches, to be honest. But I’m sure Gareth will always come good with time. He is a brilliant player.
In the context of European qualification, how important is the game against Belgium?
Yeah, it’s massive, obviously. They have great players in their side – Eden Hazard for example. Really top players. It is a very difficult game and one we want to win. We got a clean sheet away from home so that gives us confidence playing at home and we genuinely feel that we can beat anyone. That’s a good place to be in.
With Swansea beating their Premier League points record, it’s a good time all round.
Exactly. We have had a very good season at Swansea. People like to write you off but we have a very strong group and good people at the club. We keep doing what we are doing and the manager (Garry Monk) has been superb for us.
You’re not exactly old yourself but any thoughts about management down the line?
I’ve only just signed a new contract. I don’t know what I will do down the line but I am going to take my coaching badges so that I have that option. I’ll probably start with them next season, but like I said I’m a long way from stopping playing just yet.
How has your relationship with Garry Monk changed now that he’s the Swansea manager?
It does change, of course it does, and that is only right. I will always have a good relationship with him but it’s essential to respect that he is now the gaffer. And he’s doing a great job. You could see from the start just how hard he works. He was coming in first in the morning and would text you late. Always going. He puts everything into the job and you can see what we’re getting out – a record points total for the Premier League. People outside the club might have questioned his experience when he came in but what he’s done has been unbelievable.