History was made during Athletic Club’s Friday night clash with Deportivo Alavés at San Mamés this weekend. It was Iñaki Williams’ 203th consecutive appearance for the club in LaLiga Santander, moving him into first on the all-time rankings, over the legendary Real Sociedad player Juan Antonio Larrañaga, with the longest streak of consecutive games in the whole LaLiga Santander history. The former record of 202 games was set in 1993.
Williams’ incredible run began against Atlético de Madrid. He returned from an injury to play against Los Colchoneros back in the 2015/16 campaign, on April 20th 2016. After playing the final five matches of that season, he played in all 38 of Athletic Club’s games in 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21, as well as the first 8 fixtures of the current campaign. In other words, there hasn’t been an Athletic Club LaLiga Santander match that hasn’t featured Williams during five years and a half, since a 1-0 win over Malaga CF all the way back in spring 2016.
At that time, Real Madrid only had won 10 Champions League trophies, the Spanish National Team was still the current European champion, Erling Haaland was still playing in the reserve team of Bryne FK, Stranger Things had not yet been released, and the president of the United States was still Barack Obama… and in all this time in which the world has changed so much, Iñaki Williams has not missed a single Athletic Club match in LaLiga Santander.
Williams’ story is a unique one. Born in Bilbao to a Ghanaian father and Liberian mother,he grew up in neighbouring Pamplona and started playing for local teams in the area. Since he lived far away from the complex, teammates would take turns at bringing him to training and Williams remains grateful for the support he received from those teammates and the various coaches and directors who helped him along the way. He was so talented that Athletic Club took notice while Williams was playing in Pamplona and he was soon incorporated into the club’s Lezama academy.
Playing for the Basque side’s B team, Bilbao Athletic, Williams really stood out and first-team coach Ernesto Valverde was so impressed with what he was seeing that he handed the youngster his first-team debut against Córdoba in December of 2014, aged just 20. A few months later, in February 2015, he netted his first goal for the team by scoring against Torino in the Europa League.
Before long, Williams had become Athletic Club’s talisman in attack, complementing Aritz Aduriz perfectly. By scoring big goals in big moments and by causing problems for opposition defences every time he produced one of his trademark sprints, Williams was key in the various successes enjoyed by Athletic Club over the following seasons.
Williams became so important that he was never dropped. It takes good health and a clean disciplinary record to set a consecutive appearance record like his, but it also requires the unwavering confidence of a coach – or coaches. Over the period of Williams’ 203 LaLiga Santander matches in a row, he has had five coaches and every one has consistently named him on their team sheets: the current coach Marcelino, Gaizka Garitano, Eduardo Berizzo, Cuco Ziganda and Ernesto Valverde.
In the boardroom, they believe in Williams too and, in 2019, he penned a nine-year contract that will run until 2028, a commitment rarely seen in modern football. No other player in LaLiga Santander had a contract that runs that far into the future(Jon Moncayola just renewed his contract for 10 seasons with CA Osasuna until 2031), but Williams and Athletic Club are a match made in heaven and they want this special bond to continue.
“I have always said that I am where I want to be,” he stated as he signed his new deal. “It’s a matter or pride for me to be linked with this great club for so many years, a club that has given me everything. Athletic Club always believed in me and this is my home.”