Athletic Bilbao’s Inaki Williams says the close season was “the best moment” to switch allegiance to Ghana after representing Spain, and insists it is a decision he will not regret.
The 28-year-old, who was born in Bilbao to Ghanaian parents, played for Spain at Under-21 level and also made one appearance for the senior team in a friendly against Bosnia in 2016.
But after six years of being overlooked by Spain, the forward did not want to waste his peak years waiting for his next international call-up – and could now feature at this year’s World Cup.
“Despite being born in Europe, I have my African roots and Ghanaian blood,” Williams said.
“I think this is the best moment to make that decision. I don’t think I will regret it because these trains [opportunities] only come by once.
“I wasn’t going to have this opportunity again and I think I made the right choices. I will enjoy the moment, my roots and repay the chance Ghana has given me.
“I think I will enjoy it on the sporting side and personally.”
Committed to Ghana
Williams was among five players to declare their allegiance for Ghana last month, and the decision by the Ghana Football Association (GFA) to bolster its World Cup-bound squad through its diaspora has met with some backlash from followers of the Black Stars.
Wary supporters are worried that this trend – snapping up eligible players of Ghanaian heritage – might disturb the harmony of the squad that qualified for the finals, which begin on 20 November.
Some of the newcomers are seen as opportunists who just want a chance to play in Qatar, where the 2010 World Cup quarter-finalists will face Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay in Group H.
However, Williams revealed he thought about committing to the four-time African champions for “many months”.
“My family helped me make the decision and GFA president (Kurt Okraku) made the most [effort] for me to be with the national team,” he added.
“There have been many factors that have influenced this decision. They proposed to me that I represent Ghana, as I had a pending trip to visit my family in the country.
“I had nothing clearly figured, but the trip helped me see what my grandparents thought about that. It was then easier when you see the people and your family support you to be a Black Star.”
Williams believes Ghana can be competitive, and has vowed to give his all once he makes his debut.
“There are many good players in the Ghana national team and we have a good squad,” he said.
“We will try to do our best all the time. Pressure or no pressure I will give back the affection received through effort, work, and goals if they come.
“No one will be able to reproach my effort to make them feel proud of me.”
Embracing the Nations Cup and support from Athletic
Sceptics have insinuated that Williams could follow the path of Kevin-Prince Boateng, another European-born player who decided to represent Ghana.
The former Germany U21 international played for the West Africans at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups but rarely showed up for fixtures in far-flung corners of the continent and never appeared at the Africa Cup of Nations.
“I will be available for the Nations Cup, that’s why I made the choice,” Williams said.
“We valued that the next editions will be in the winter, but at the end of the day many European clubs lose their best players.
“Representing the country my parents are from and the country where I feel very loved, I will try to give everything for Ghana.”
Asked if his decision would have been different if he had to choose between Ghana and Spain, Williams replied: “I don’t know. The choice I made is Ghana, for my family, for myself, for everything they have shown me the last few months.”
After eight seasons at Athletic, Williams holds the record for the most consecutive appearances in La Liga – 234 games – after bettering the previous mark of 202 last October.
He became the first black player to score in the club’s 117-year history when netting against Torino in February 2015, and Williams has the support of the club in his quest to pursue an international career outside of Spain.
“The current president Aitor Elizegi always wanted me to make that choice because he felt it would’ve made me happy,” he said.
“I think he feels happy and proud I have made that decision. Aitor sent me an emotive message as soon as I released the statement. I will always be grateful to him for being so supportive and understanding my feelings.”
Williams’ younger brother Nico also plays for the Basque side, but he is unsure if the 20-year-old will follow in his footsteps and choose Ghana over Spain.
“Despite being brothers that question isn’t for me,” he said.
“That’s his decision and that answer is down to him. I will be there to support and help him.”