Iñaki Williams now sits second in the all-time consecutive LaLiga appearances rankings, having overtaken Real Sociedad and Spain legend Luis Arconada.
History was made during Athletic Club’s Sunday night clash with Atletico de Madrid this weekend. It was Iñaki Williams’ 189th consecutive appearance for the club in LaLiga Santander, moving him into second on the all-time rankings ahead of Real Sociedad legend Luis Arconada. Only Juan Antonio Larrañaga, who played in 202 matches in a row, has a longer streak.
Curiously, Williams’ incredible run actually began against Atlético de Madrid. He returned from an injury to play against Los Colchoneros back in the 2015/16 campaign, on April 20th 2016. After playing the final five matches of that season, he played in all 38 of Athletic Club’s games in 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20, as well as the first 32 fixtures of the current campaign. In other words, there hasn’t been an Athletic Club league match that hasn’t featured Williams since a 1-0 win over Malaga all the way back in 2016.
Williams’ story is a unique one. Born in Bilbao to a Ghanaian father and Liberian mother, he grew up in neighbouring Pamplona and started playing for local teams in the area. Since he lived far away from the complex, teammates would take turns at bringing him to training and Williams remains grateful for the support he received from those teammates and the various coaches and directors who helped him along the way. He was so talented that Athletic Club took notice while Williams was playing in Pamplona and he was soon incorporated into the club’s Lezama academy.
Playing for the Basque side’s B team, Bilbao Athletic, Williams really stood out and first-team coach Ernesto Valverde was so impressed with what he was seeing that he handed the youngster his first-team debut against Córdoba in December of 2014, aged just 20. A few months later, in February 2015, he netted his first goal for the team by scoring against Torino in the Europa League.
Before long, Williams had become Athletic Club’s talisman in attack, complementing Aritz Aduriz perfectly. By scoring big goals in big moments and by causing problems for opposition defences every time he produced one of his trademark sprints, Williams was key in the various successes enjoyed by Athletic Club over the following seasons.
Williams became so important that he was never dropped. It takes good health and a clean disciplinary record to set a consecutive appearance record like his, but it also requires the unwavering confidence of a coach – or coaches. Over the period of Williams’ 189 LaLiga Santander matches in a row, he has had five coaches and every one has consistently named him on their team sheets.
In the boardroom, they believe in Williams too and, in 2019, he penned a nine-year contract that will run until 2028, a commitment rarely seen in modern football. No other player in LaLiga Santander has a contract that runs that far into the future, but Williams and Athletic Club are a match made in heaven and they want this special bond to continue.
“I have always said that I am where I want to be,” he stated as he signed his new deal. “It’s a matter or pride for me to be linked with this great club for so many years, a club that has given me everything. Athletic Club always believed in me and this is my home.”