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A-League Grand Final: 50-50 challenge

Australian A-League
 By Daniel Phan

Rhys Williams wants Victory move to put him on road to 2018 World Cup

Rhys Williams & Diego Castro
Rhys Williams helped Perth Glory make the A-League finals, but had an unhappy season at his hometown club.

Despite time and family having helped ease Rhys Williams' anguish of missing consecutive World Cups, one of Australia's more cultured defensive players remains upbeat about donning the green and gold in Russia next year.

In fact, his World Cup ambitions were the driving force behind his latest move from hometown club Perth Glory to A-League runners-up Melbourne Victory after months of transfer speculation.

Key to his decision to forego the sunnier climes and postcard views of Sydney or elsewhere in Asia and opt for Melbourne was coach Kevin Muscat's ties to his former boss and now Socceroos manager Ange Postecoglou.

"Yes, Kevin's relationship [with Postecoglou was important to my decision], but the main thing now is get ready for my new team and hit the ground running. it's a huge season with the World Cup coming ... and I don't want to miss this one," Williams said.

"In my experience, Ange likes the way I play the game, we got off on good terms on his first camp [with the national squad] and have kept in touch, and I think my experience will help the boys."

New chapter! Can't wait to get going already!! @gomvfc

A post shared by @rhys.williams5 on

The 28-year-old, who spent almost a decade in England's second-tier with Middlesbrough, was a key figure in two successful World Cup qualifying campaigns in 2010 and 2014. But, he agonisingly missed the tournaments in South Africa and Brazil due to injury.

And watching Australian football's greatest achievement from afar -- the triumphant 2015 Asian Cup run -- further added to the lament of injury misfortune.

"I should've been there [for the Asian Cup]. I missed a lot, I just wish I was there. I hate missing out, but I'm glad the boys did well," the former Wales youth international said.

For someone who flirted with the Premier League, returning home to Australian domestic football during the typical peak years for a professional footballer was a gracious leap of faith. But he believes it will ultimately prove fruitful in re-writing his injury-prone reputation, and recreating his long-term legacy.

The Australian competition's shorter schedule, in addition to the proximity that Socceroos stars are afforded to the national manager, was a key draw to coming home.

While he missed out on Australia's squad for June's Confederations Cup, his recall to the Australian squad for the World Cup qualifiers in March -- even though he didn't see game time -- has given Williams a boost.

Rhys Williams and Tim Cahill for Australia in 2009
Rhys Williams, playing with Tim Cahill against Ireland in 2009, has earned only 14 caps over eight years.

"I'm enjoying being back and the less games has helped me as well, coming back from injury. I feel good and I really can't wait to get started at the Victory," he said while attending a friendly match in Malaysia, where his father Eric has been coaching Melaka United in the nation's top tier.

"Coming back was to make sure I enjoyed football again; being away from family and injured a lot, I've come back to prove my fitness and I feel like I've done that.

"The weather in Australia is always a big benefit for injuries."

"But also for the national team manager, [it's an advantage] to be right under his nose in Australia and the whole league's televised, so it's easier for people to see my game."

Due to his Socceroos' and European experience, the former teenage prodigy heads to Melbourne Victory with the veteran's tag. For some it may be an unwanted burden. but it is a status the 28-year-old has enjoyed, amid reports of a less-than-happy spell at the Glory last season.

"I'm enjoying my veteran status," he said. "I've played with the likes of Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Mark Schwarzer and against Premier League teams, so I feel like I'm really experienced," he said. "I know I've played only 14 games [for Australia] but I've been in nearly every single camp."

"Hopefully I can get a few more appearances."

Despite the allure of English and European football, the former Middlesbrough captain had pined for humbler surrounds.

"With all due respect to the A-League, it is a lot better than I thought it was: it's well publicised and it's everywhere -- and there's only one league in Australia," he said.

Rhys Williams
Rhys Williams spent nine years with Middlesbrough, mostly in the English second tier.

"I enjoy being back, and I enjoy people not knowing who I am. Obviously being in Europe you're in a fishbowl -- everyone can see you and knows who you are.

"So this is a nice change for me and my family."

Williams is happy to be in Australia, even if it means he does not envisage tangible improvements to his versatile attack-minded defensive game that once attracted the interest of multiple Premer League sides, notably Liverpool.

"I'm not sure to be honest [if being in the A-league will add to my game] having played at nearly the highest level," he added.

"Coming back it's still a challenge, but one I'm enjoying at the minute -- I don't know I can learn too much more but I do feel like I can help develop younger players."

Williams is expected to see his first competitive action for Melbourne Victory in the 2017 FFA Cup in August.

Daniel Phan is a Malaysia-based Vietnamese journalist who has written for SBS, Jakarta Globe and Australian Associated Press.


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