There’s a new Williams brother in town in Bilbao, and he looks set to be a future star. Here’s all you need to know about 18-year-old sensation Nico Williams.
History was made in the 62nd minute of Athletic Club’s 2-2 draw with Real Valladolid in late April. It was at this moment that 18-year-old Nico Williams stepped off the San Mamés sidelines and onto the pitch to become the 627th lion to debut with the Bilbao side’s first team. Just 10 minutes later, when Nico’s older brother Iñaki was substituted on too, another slice of history was made. The Williams duo became the first brothers to play together for Athletic Club’s first team in over thirty years, something not seen since Patxi and Julio Salinas stepped out together way back in 1986.
Their story is an inspiring one. Born to a Ghanaian father and Liberian mother who had met at a refugee camp and who had fled to Spain to start a new life, they arrived first in Bilbao and then settled in nearby Pamplona – a city best known around the world for the Running of the Bulls festival every July – where they raised two football mad sons, Iñaki and Nico. The brothers have gone on to become only the second and third black players to play for the Athletic Club first team – a club which relies exclusively on local talent – in history, after only Bilbao native Jonas Ramalho in 2011.
Appearing in the first series of the LaLiga and Amazon documentary Six Dreams back in 2018, Iñaki spoke of his pride at representing so many different groups every time he takes to the pitch for Athletic Club, something he has now done in a remarkable 190 LaLiga Santander matchdays in a row.
“For me, it’s an honour that black people and African people are proud of me,” said the 26-year-old. You hear and read comments like ‘how can a black player play for Athletic?’ I am black, but I am also Basque, I was born here. I feel Basque and I want to open doors for all those people that want to fight and work hard every day to play for Athletic Club.”
While he might have hoped it, Iñaki surely didn’t know at the time that it would be his younger brother Nico who’d next follow in his footsteps. Like his sibling, Nico started his footballing career by playing in the nearby region of Navarre, before being spotted by Athletic Club’s scouts and brought in to their world-famous Lezama academy. The Spanish national team’s talent spotters also identified the winger’s skills and have called him up for various youth teams.
Nico started this season playing on the wing for the Basque club’s reserve team, Bilbao Athletic. His nine goals in 22 appearances caught the eye of first-team coach Marcelino and he was regularly involved in the first-team training sessions during the week. The most recent of his Bilbao Athletic goals was a penalty against Calahorra three days before his efforts were rewarded with his first-team debut.
Comparisons with his older brother are always going to be made and coaches at Lezama explain that Nico is pacey yet not quite as quick as his sibling. However, his close control and technical skill might be better. Able to play on either the left or right wing, the teenager has been causing defences in the lower leagues problems all season long and is now looking to do the same thing at LaLiga Santander level. Still only 18, there is room to grow and there is great excitement at what he could become. With his older brother Iñaki’s contract not expiring until 2028 and with Nico’s current deal running to 2024, these two brothers could be leading Athletic Club’s attack for several years to come.
Nico is not resting on his laurels, though. As his Iñaki has made clear, there is still a lot of work to do for this rising star. Speaking in a press conference days after Nico’s debut, the older Williams brother said: “This is all a dream come true. When I arrived at Athletic, I dreamed of reaching the first team. Then when my brother arrived, I dreamed that we could share the dressing room together. We can now say that we’ve achieved this, although there is still a lot to come. He’s young and has room to improve. The important thing isn’t just to make it, it’s to stay there. I think that with hard work and sacrifice he can achieve everything.”