Football in Spain: The Williams Brothers’ Incredible Week – Sport


Footballer Iñaki Williams, 28, was born in Bilbao and sometimes likes to conform to popular stereotypes. Bilbainos are seen as people who like to lean out the window, who are loud-mouthed, think everything in their own city in the Basque Country is bigger than anywhere else – and can laugh at others just as well as at themselves.

“I’m from Bilbao!” Said Athletic pro Iñaki Williams, some time ago as he settled into an armchair on the late-night show “El Hormiguero” and explained that that’s why he got the answers to the Anticipate the moderator’s questions: “I have five to ten million euros in my account and I fuck four times a week.”

The audience cheered, also because most of them knew that Iñaki Williams’ résumé was not designed for luxury, smirking and joie de vivre. But on suffering.

Iñaki Williams was a guest on the TV show because he has been on everyone’s lips in Spain for a long time. Now he is even worldwide together with his Athletic colleague and brother Nico Williams. Last Friday, Iñaki Williams, 28, made his debut in the Ghana national team, coached by former Borussia Dortmund player Otto Addo, two months before the World Cup in Qatar in a friendly against Brazil.

Two Athletic Bilbao pros, two internationals for different countries

24 hours later, Nico Williams, who was eight years his junior, also made his national team debut – but not with Ghana, but with Spain against Switzerland. The next missions are scheduled for Tuesday: Iñaki is playing a friendly against Nicaragua with Ghana in the southeast of Spain, in Lorca. And Nico travels to Portugal with the Spaniards, where Braga is about participation in the Nations League final tournament.

Iñaki Williams (left) in the friendly against Brazil: However, he lost 3-0 with Ghana’s national team.

(Photo: Christophe Ena/AP)

Two brothers playing for two different nations at the same time in senior international matches? It’s not like it’s never happened before: Jérôme and Prince Boateng played for Germany and Ghana respectively; Thiago plays for Spain, his brother Rafinha tried it in Brazil; brothers Granit and Taulin Xhaka represent Switzerland and Albania respectively; Paul Pogba became world champion with France, his siblings Mathias and Florentin Pogba followed the call of Guinea; and Christian and Max Vieri once played for Italy and Australia.

But there are more ordinary stories in football than those of the Williams brothers, and that goes double and triple. The fact that her mother Maria Arthuer gave birth in northern Spain (Iñaki was born in Bilbao, Nico in Pamplona) was a consequence of the terrible poverty in sub-Saharan Africa – or “destiny”, as Iñaki Williams once called it. With his presence as a professional footballer, he has repeatedly reminded us how it all came about.

The Williams brothers’ parents crossed the Sahara in search of a dignified life – barefoot

He did that earlier this year, for example, when he played for the Spanish Super Cup in Dubai with his brother Nico and Athletic Bilbao. Mother Mary was there too. She not only cried when Nico scored a goal, she also cried when she saw the desert – because everything that she had experienced came up again. She had left Accra with her husband Felix, had crossed the Sahara on foot, barefoot. She had jumped over the “fence” with which the European Union defended its “values” back then, in the mid-1990s, just as it does to this day – with more and more barbed wire, weapons and with the eager cooperation of the Moroccan security forces.

When she entered the Spanish exclave on North African soil, she was seven months pregnant. Posing as Liberians, then recognized as war refugees, they were sent to Bilbao, the Basque country’s most important industrial city. There, the Catholic aid organization Caritas took in the family, but above all they were welcomed by a prospective priest named Iñaki Mardones, who didn’t ask any big questions but took care of the young family – so touching that Iñaki was named after him out of gratitude.

Then they moved from Bilbao to Sesma in Navarra and from there to Pamplona, ​​where Iñaki played as a boy in a club that’s kind of a branch of Athletic. The Red and White club later brought Iñaki into their own academy and formed a player who made history, relieving the family of any financial problems. And these were big.

He knows that his life as a professional has nothing to do with reality, Iñaki once said. He experienced reality as a boy. He went with his mother when she worked as a cleaning lady, and he only saw his father Felix four or five times in a ten-year period because he had lost his job and was looking for money and work in the UK. Until football became the salvation of the family.

Because Iñaki was so talented that he was offered a professional contract by the big Athletic Club de Bilbao, which has never been relegated from the first Spanish division – the club that only uses footballers who were born or grew up in the Basque Country. Williams turned professional – and in February 2015 became the first black player to score for Athletic in the club’s more than 120-year history. His brother has since followed suit, both scoring in the 3-2 draw against Rayo Vallecano before the international break. They became the first pair of brothers to score in a game for Athletic since Eneko and Antón Arieta in March 1965.

Iñaki is a forward, fast and desirable – his brother Nico is too, maybe even better. Both progressed through Spain’s youth national teams and Iñaki was used by then-coach Vicente del Bosque in a senior team friendly against Bosnia in 2016. But since 2020, the rule has applied that a footballer can still play for another country if he has not played more than three times for the first country by the age of 21. This applies if there are at least three years between the debuts for both teams and if no European Championship or World Cup has been played before.

The World Cup in Qatar was Iñaki’s big dream, which is one of the reasons why he agreed in May this year to play for Ghana, for “the country of my parents, my blood, the values ​​that our father and mother gave us”. he says. Maybe it hurt him that the door to Spain’s national team didn’t open anymore, but it is what it is. “I like Iñaki, I like Nico a lot. The family will be thrilled when they go to the World Cup,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique these days: “And it would be awesome if they could see each other in the final there too.”