Fulham and Wales midfielder George Williams has revealed how Gareth Bale’s ‘get well’ message gave him the boost he needed to recover from the injury he feared could wreck his Euro 2016 as he looks to seal a chance to go up against close pal Dele Alli in France.
Williams rammed home his credentials for a place in Chris Coleman’s tournament 23 with his performance in Thursday’s draw with Northern Ireland and will again look to press home his claims in Monday’s friendly with Ukraine in Kiev.
But the lively midfielder’s hopes of becoming Wales’ secret weapon this summer were placed in doubt earlier this year when he ruptured his cruciate knee ligament in a moment that left his club boss in tears as it ruined plans of letting Williams and boyhood friend Alli star together while at MK Dons.
Yet Williams showed he has suffered no after-effects with his lively performance at Cardiff City Stadium having revealed the role Real Madrid superstar Bale played in his return.
Bale took time to tweet his support to the Fulham wideman after the injury a year ago, writing: “Gutted for @george_willo35. Wish him all the best on his recovery!! #togetherstronger”
And Williams, 20, said: “It was quite a tough time for me so it was incredible for him to show his support like that. I’d only won a few caps at that point and been in a couple of squads with him, so for him to have done that was brilliant and shows how together we are as a team.
“It was a hard time for me and you do start to worry about how you are going to come back but to know you have people like that backing you is the boost you need.
“And it’s been good to get back with Wales. I missed the end of the last campaign and a few months back I was a little worried about whether I would have a chance, but it’s all behind me now and I’m looking forward to try and make sure I’m out there in France with Gareth.”
It could also mean Williams lining up against old pal Alli whose superb season with Spurs has thrown him into England reckoning, with his performance in the Three Lions’ win over Germany on Saturday meaning he will be one for Wales to watch when the old rivals meet in Lens on June 17.
Williams came through the youth ranks at MK Dons alongside Alli before he was snapped up by Fulham, with Alli helping him get a loan move to the then League One club last season just before the injury.
Dons boss Karl Robinson admitted he was left in tears when the injury stopped him having the chance to pair Alli and Williams before the former’s big-money move to Spurs, describing their partnership as “perfect”.
Williams said of his mate at the time: “I’ve been playing with him since I was a little boy. It’s a bit of a fairy tale to be playing with him again. From our youth team days, we’ll still have a connection. We know what each other is thinking.”
Coleman might want to tap into that come the England clash, though Williams is still eager to nail down his place in the final 23, and says he will try and do it by sticking to his exciting style that has won him praise already in his international career.
Ahead of the game in Kiev, Williams – currently on loan at Gillingham – said: “It was good to be out there last week and try and impress because everyone’s fighting to get into the squad and I’d be lying if I said you don’t think about it.
“It’s going to be tough but that competition is great because we’ve got a great group of 30 players. Everyone’s fighting for a place and these games are a great chance to show what you can do.
“Hopefully I can take my chance and I will keep doing what I do and not change my game. l like to have a bit of confidence on the ball and my first thought is to try and take someone on and hopefully I can use that to my advantage top get to France.
“I enjoy that side of the game, it’s what I’ve always done and what I will keep on doing.
“If it means I can create an opportunity or draw a foul and you’ve got people like Gareth who can score nine times out of ten from a free-kick that is going to help.”
Tottenham have climbed into fourth in the Premier League table with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Fulham at White Hart Lane.
Harry Redknapp’s side, who are now perfect over the festive period, settled the contest thanks to Gareth Bale’s well-placed header before the break. Rafael van der Vaart struck a free-kick goalwards and Bale rose to glance a header away from Mark Schwarzer in off the crossbar.
Fulham, buoyed by the win over Stoke, gave as good as they got at White Hart Lane and Mark Hughes will feel his charges deserved at least a point Heurelho Gomes’ save from Andy Johnson’s low drive was the closest the visitors came to levelling matters, although it was Spurs who claimed the three points.
The build-up to Saturday’s game was dominated by the news Spurs were trying to sign David Beckham on loan. And the home side set about demonstrating why manager Harry Redknapp was so keen to bring the former England captain to White Hart Lane. Aaron Lennon – the man whose place would be under threat from Beckham’s arrival – wasted three good chances to produce a final ball in the opening 45 minutes.
Otherwise, Fulham proved stubborn in the extreme, buoyed by their first win in 27 away games at Stoke on Tuesday. They also put together the best move of the half, some sweet one-touch passing releasing Dickson Etuhu, who was challenged by Benoit Assou-Ekotto. John Pantsil and Michael Dawson, respectively, were booked for tripping Bale and Clint Dempsey, who also screwed wide from 18 yards.
Spurs suffered a blow in the 27th minute when Alan Hutton hobbled off to be replaced by Vedran Corluka. Schwarzer – playing his final game before leaving for the Asian Cup – smothered long-range efforts from Assou-Ekotto and Roman Pavlyuchenko as Tottenham’s frustration grew.
But just as the first half looked set to end goalless, their two star men combined in unconventional fashion to put them ahead. Spurs were awarded a 42nd-minute free-kick and Bale got in the way of Van der Vaart’s 30-yard shot only to deliberately flick a header past Schwarzer.
Bale also forced a smart stop from Schwarzer before the break and more magic from him and Van der Vaart might have set up a second Spurs goal shortly after the restart but there was no-one to meet the latter’s dangerous cross.
Damien Duff almost profited from a brilliant cross-field Etuhu ball but he could not keep a difficult right-foot finish down. Fulham were otherwise demonstrating the lack of cutting edge which has been their undoing since Bobby Zamora broke his leg, with Danny Murphy, Dempsey and Duff all sending 25-yard efforts wide.
Lennon blew another good chance to deliver a cross before the visitors almost scored a freak equaliser. Gomes parried Andy Johnson’s shot straight into Dawson, who spared his own blushes by clearing off the line. Suddenly, it was all Fulham and Redknapp reacted midway through the half by withdrawing Pavlyuchenko for Peter Crouch.
William Gallas – making his first appearance for almost a month following a hamstring injury – needed his right thigh heavily strapped but was able to continue. Bale and Dawson both volleyed over right-footed within moments of each other as Tottenham tried to kill off their opponents in the final 15 minutes. But they were soon back under pressure themselves and tried to shore up their midfield by bringing on Jermaine Jenas for Van der Vaart, while Fulham also threw on Zoltan Gera for Duff.
Murphy and Dempsey saw shots blocked as Spurs’ defending became somewhat desperate but Lennon blew yet another great chance on the break, blazing over after an electrifying run. Assou-Ekotto was booked for cynically hauling back Gera and Lennon finally found a team-mate in the box, but Crouch’s tame finish was straight at Schwarzer. Fulham poured forward in stoppage-time and Spurs were hanging on at the end, but hang on they did.
Gareth Bale’s had something of a stop-start Premier League career. Highly rated by everyone who clapped eyes on this awesome talent at Southampton, the Welsh teenager struggled to make the instant impact the pundits expected when he made the big-money move to London. Hardly surprising given his tender age, really. A common complaint early in his time at White Hart Lane was that the young protege was a little too naive defensively and he struggled to win a place on the left side of midfield given the other options at the various Tottenham coaches’ disposal.
We all know about his Premier League curse but, even during that barren run, there were glimpses of what the kid could do. One of them came at Craven Cottage in September 2007. He ran riot down the Tottenham left, scoring a delicious third goal that looked to have settled the contest.
Spurs might have been rocked by an absurdly acrobatic Diomansy Kamara equaliser that day but Bale’s ability wasn’t in question.
He’s slowly established himself as a regular in the Spurs team under Redknapp and provides the sort of extra attacking outlet managers love from a full back. This was evident on another fruitless trip to the Lane for Fulham back in January, when Bale finally got that lack of a league win when he started off his back. He was outstanding, carrying the ball deep into Fulham territory and delivering dangerous cross after dangerous cross. Granted we didn’t give him too much defending to do, but the boy was irresistable.
It seems as though Bale has shaken off the knock that forced him off early for Wales in midweek, so Fulham will have to curb his attacking instincts. That will be easier said than done. Much of the responsibility for monitoring Tottenham’s maurauding left back will likely full on the shoulders of a revitalised Damien Duff. The Republic of Ireland winger will have plenty of practice at tracking back and disciplined defending in Donetsk recently, though that’s not to say such a heavy work ethic isn’t always demanded of him by Roy Hodgson.
Like Tottenham’s key midfielders, the solution would be to try and give Bale something to think about himself. Duff’s willing to take on a full back and will need to occupy Bale in his own defensive third. A performance like the one he delivered against Birmingham – complete with another long-range goal – would be very handy indeed.
I don’t know how much to trust the newspaper gossip, especially when there’s not all that much football or actual transfers to write about. Apparently we’re ready to try and tempt Gareth Bale away from Tottenham and, with our reported interest in Tom Huddlestone, there could be the prospect of a similar double deal to the one that saw Bobby Zamora and John Pantsil swap West Ham for Fulham last year.
I’m certainly of the opinion that we need a new left back in the summer. Paul Konchesky’s been an upgrade on what we previously had in that position, but he’s the weak link in an otherwise very solid defence for me. It might be a bit harsh to lay the blame for Benayoun’s goal last weekend solely at his door, but he’s made too many costly mistakes to be assured of his place week in, week out.
The trouble is that Bale’s still learning the art of defending – as evidenced by his own shaky confidence and the recent comments of Harry Redknapp. He’s young enough to improve his defensive ability and the rigid defensive shape that we adopt under Hodgson might help bring that aspect of his game on. On the other hand, he could be a useful option on the left hand side of midfield, too, which has been something of a problem position for us for the last couple of years. But, before you get too excited, the Spurs board might not be so keen on parting with one of their top prospects for the future. There’s also that unenviable Premier League record to consider.
Indeed, Huddlestone – clearly unhappy at the lack of first team football he’s been offered at White Hart Lane – might be the more likely of the two to join us in the summer. The idea of him and Danny Murphy in central midfield does have a certain appeal to it too.