Geraint Williams is the man with a plan to stop Ronaldo
- Credit: PA
It is an Ipswich resident who has been charged with unenviable task of coming up with a plan for stopping Cristiano Ronaldo this evening.
Geraint Williams – a man synonymous with East Anglian football – has been the Wales Under-21 boss for four years. For the last few weeks he has been at the heart of the senior camp at the European Championships, operating in a role as opposition scout.
His thoughts on Portugal have long been filed ahead of tonight’s semi-final clash. Yesterday he was holed up in a hotel room in Lyon compiling an in-depth report for Chris Coleman on the strengths and weaknesses of both Germany and France – potential opponents in Sunday’s final – after attending their respective quarter-final victories.
That’s indicative of the belief and professionalism in the Wales camp right now. Anything seems possible.
“It’s been a fantastic experience,” said the 54-year-old. “As a proud Welshman this is something I’ll never forget. You keep thinking it can’t get any better and then it does!
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“It’s been fun, but it’s also been very serious and a lot of hard work. Travelling from city to city may seem quite glamorous, but the reality is that I’m sat in a hotel room compiling detailed reports for hours on end most days.
“I’ve been around the camp quite a bit though and that’s been great. It’s exactly like you see back home on the TV – Chris makes sure everyone feels involved and part of it. He has really embraced that motto of ‘together, stronger’.
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“As you progress through the rounds, as you can imagine, it becomes harder highlighting weaknesses in the opposition – but all teams have them.
“We won’t change our system and what works for us, but we will be aware of the opposition and what they do well.”
Born in the village of Cwmparc, situated in the Rhondda Valley of Glamorgan, Williams was capped 13 times by his country and is as proud a Welshman as they come. But – as he jokingly admits – he must surely be classed as a bone fide East Anglian now.
He joined Ipswich Town from Derby back in 1992 and has been a resident of the town ever since. After making more than 200 appearances for the Blues he finished his playing career just over the border at Colchester United and later became their manager. The commute from Suffolk, where he was once next door neighbour to Jim Magilton, continued when he took over at Leyton Orient.
His homeland came calling in 2012 and he has played his part in a long-term plan which has transformed Wales from an all-time low of 112th in the FIFA rankings – classed alongside the likes of Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Kazakhstan and San Marino – to qualifying for their first major tournament in 57 years.
“When I came into the system four years ago it was stressed to me that it was all about having a clear player pathway, from Under-17s, to 19s, to 21s and then into the seniors,” explains Williams. “Players are told from an early age what is required from them technically and tactically to ultimately fit the philosophy of the senior team.
“I can’t take any credit for the likes of Gareth (Bale), Aaron Ramsey and Chris Gunter because they had all gone through the system before me under Brian Flynn (Under-21 boss from 2004 to 2012), but I have helped some of the next generation coming through – the likes of Jazz Richards, Declan John, Tom Lawrence and Emyr Hughes.”
So just what about that plan for Real Madrid mega-star Ronaldo tonight?
“He’s obviously a world class player, but he’s had a quiet start to the competition,” said Williams. “I watched Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Hungary in the group stages and he scored two very good goals in that game. He starts in wide areas and often ends up in a centre-forward’s position – like all great players he finds space for himself.
“We will obviously be wary of that, but I do think sometimes if you put too much emphasis on stopping one player then it can create more problems.
“Belgium had three players around Gareth (Bale) whenever he received the ball and that created space for others. Yes, you have to have a plan for Ronaldo – but we won’t just be focussed on him.”
He continued: “Gareth is our talisman and leader, but there is no-one more humble than him.
“He was always a massive player for us, he still is, but other players have come to the fore and are now starting to believe they belong on this stage. You saw that in the last game with Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes both scoring.
“Can we win? Can we go all the way? Of course we can, but we know the performance levels cannot dip in any way if we are to stand a chance. We are at the elite end of a major tournament now. We have got to keep putting the work in, both on and off the field as players and staff.”
He adds: “I always had a good feeling about this group. My wife was asking about summer holidays earlier this year and I told her we wouldn’t be booking anything until after the tournament. That’s just as well, hey!”
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Geraint Williams has backed popular former Ipswich Town loanee Jonny Williams to shine on the big stage tonight when Wales take Portugal in a European Championship semi-final.
All the focus will be on the battle between mega-stars Gareth Bale versus Cristiano Ronaldo, but it could well be the likeable lad who graced the Portman Road pitch that makes the difference.
The 22-year-old Crystal Palace midfielder, who made 20 appearances for the Blues during three separate spells between 2014 and 2015, is in line to replace suspended key man Aaron Ramsey in Lyon as Wales aim to continue defying the odds.
“There are a number of players in contention for Aaron’s place, but if it is Jonny who gets the nod then we know he wouldn’t let us down,” said Geraint Williams.
“I had Jonny in my first Under-21 squad and he is just a pleasure to be around as a coach. He’s one of those players who always comes in with a massive smile on his face in the morning. He just wants to get out on the grass and have a ball at his feet.
“He’s a smashing lad off the field and, as Ipswich fans will know, he comes alive on it. He’s got that ability to go past people and tempt them into a tackle. It was him who won us the free-kick which Gareth (Bale) scored against Slovakia.”