Inaki Williams loves Ghana but insists on playing for Spain

Inaki Williams

Athletic Bilbao striker Inaki Williams has reiterated that he is only thinking about playing for Spain despite professing his love for Ghana – the country his parents hail from.

Williams says he loves the Ghanaian culture, food and tradition. He speaks the popular Twi language, but feels it’s not enough to pledge his international allegiance to the West African country.

And at 27, the Basque-born forward remains hopeful of becoming a regular for Spain. He has played only once for Spain, a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016. Since then, he has constantly been overlooked while the Ghana Football Association has made several attempts to get him to play for the Black Stars.

He told the Guardian, “I’m grateful to where I grew and became who I am. Ghana tried to convince me, but I was born in Spain, in Bilbao. I won’t ever forget my family roots, but I feel Basque and can’t con anyone. I would be comfortable with Ghana, I’m sure, but I shouldn’t be there …”

“And my mum knows how people love football there: it’s quite something, and she’d be worried about me.”

“When my mum’s angry, she swears at us in Ghanaian but we speak Spanish. When my parents came, it was English but we lost that. I could have a conversation in English but it’s not fluent now. When my grandparents call, I speak to them in Twi. I admire and love Ghana, the culture, food, tradition.”

“My parents are from Accra and I really enjoy going. But I wasn’t born or raised there, my culture’s here, and there are players for whom it would mean more. I don’t think it would be right to take the place of someone who really deserves to go and who feels Ghana 100%.”

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Iñaki Williams as a child with his mother, Maria (centre) and his father Felix (far right). Iñaki Mardones (second right), from whom Williams got his name, is the priest who helped the family upon their arrival in Spain. Photograph: Williams family

In the same interview, Williams opened up on his family’s incredible story relating to how his parents were granted asylum in Spain. According to Williams, his father, Felix and mother, Maria travelled from Ghana to Spain, using a very dangerous route. He said they crossed the Sahara without food or water.

“They did part in a truck, one of those with the open back, 40 people packed in, then walked days,” Williams said.

“People fell, left along the way, people they buried. It’s dangerous: there are thieves waiting, rapes, suffering. Some are tricked into it. Traffickers get paid and then halfway say:

‘The journey ends here.’ Chuck you out, leave you with nothing: no water, no food. Kids, old people, women. People go not knowing what’s ahead, if they’ll make it. My mum said: ‘If I knew, I would have stayed.’ She was pregnant with Inaki but didn’t know.

“They reached Melilla [Spain’s north African enclave], climbed the fence and the civil guard detained them. They didn’t have papers and came as migrants, so you get sent back. When they were in jail a lawyer from [the Catholic aid organisation] Caritas who spoke, English said: ‘The only thing you can try is tell them you’re from a country at war.’ They tore up their Ghanaian papers and said they were from Liberia to apply for political asylum. Thanks to him, we arrived in Bilbao.”

Inaki last Friday broke the record for most consecutive games in La Liga history as Athletic Bilbao beat Alaves 1-0. The Spaniard played his 203rd successive match surpassing the record held by former Real Sociedad defender Juan Larranaga from 1986-1992.

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The last time he didn’t play was 17 April 2016.

Iñaki Williams is hoisted in the air by his teammates after breaking a La Liga record by playing 203 consecutive matches. Photograph: Miguel Tona/EPA

What makes the record more fascinating is the fact that Inaki is that Spain’s fastest player, and the explosivity usually comes at the cost of torn muscles.

“The doctors and physios say it’s incredible, that it’s impossible for there to be a case like this again, especially playing high-intensity games every three days,” he says. “Thank my parents for the genes: I don’t know what it is but there’s something inside me.

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t played with knocks or pain; I’ve played on medication with injections, moments the manager and the team needs you. And I had two seasons going into the final weeks with four yellows. ‘Buah, if there’s a fifth, that’s a ban.’ But I don’t protest much or kick anyone,” he admits, laughing.

“[But] it wasn’t really until the last week that it was on my mind, when there were three games in seven days to break the record: home, away, home. You’re so close, there’s a risk, you think: ‘Woah, something could happen, I could lose this.’ Until then, you don’t think of it. Destiny is written.”

Williams has a contract with Bilbao until June 2028 after signing a nine-year deal in 2019.

Currently, his brother, Nico Williams, whom he is eight years older than is his teammate. The 19-year-old born in Pamplona made his debut for Bilbao this year.