Wales put faith in Jonny 'Joniesta' Williams ahead of Scotland clash

Crystal Palace prodigy takes Barça and Bale comparisons in his stride as he prepares for Hampden

Even though he was born and raised in the Garden of England, Jonny Williams did not have much choice about who to support in Saturday's Six Nations decider at the Millennium Stadium. The pint-sized midfielder – in line to make his senior debut for Wales in Friday's World Cup qualifier at Hampden Park six months before he turns 20 – watched the match with Crystal Palace's Welsh contingent of Danny Gabbidon and Ashley Richards as they prepared for last Sunday's Championship showdown with Brighton and Hove Albion.

"It was unbelievable," says Williams. "We had a bit of banter with the physios afterwards but I don't think the rest of the team were too interested."

Nicknamed "Joniesta" by Palace fans in reference to the Barcelona and Spain midfielder who scored the winning goal in the last World Cup final, and standing just 5ft 6in tall in his socks, Williams has overcome his lack of height with intricate ball skills. He also has a deceptive turn of pace that prompted Palace manager Ian Holloway to describe him as "our David Silva".

From Tonbridge in Kent, Williams joined Palace aged eight and has developed to the extent that he has attracted interest from Manchester City after playing a starring role in Palace's bid for promotion this season. Yet, having qualified for Wales because his father, Peter, was born in Anglesey, Williams' focus this week has been on his adopted country's World Cup qualifier against Scotland on Friday.

At a time when the exploits of Swansea City and Cardiff City have helped create unprecedented interest in the round-ball game in the traditional hotbed of rugby union, he is part of an exciting new generation of Welsh players hoping to be the first team to reach the finals of a major tournament since John Charles and Co were beaten by Brazil in the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup.

"It's exciting times for Wales," he says as he looks towards Scotland and the following qualifier with Croatia at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday.

"If we can get a win and a draw then you never know. Realistically, the Euros may be a better chance for us in two years' time because we have a lot of good young players, but we will keep fighting until the end."

First called up by Wales at the age of 15 by current Doncaster Rovers manager Brian Flynn, Williams' accent is more estuary than Ebbw Vale but there is no questioning his commitment to the Welsh Dragon. Former manager Gary Speed picked him for the senior squad two weeks before his 18th birthday in October 2011 and he has been an unused substitute for the last two matches under Chris Coleman.

England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce made enquiries about luring Williams, but after the faith shown by Speed after that first call-up, Williams insists there is no way he could ever turn his back on Wales.

"I've never had any second thoughts. England never chose me when I was younger so it's always been a simple choice," he explains. "To be called up for the first time to the senior squad at that age was a brilliant experience. I was a bit nervous training with people like Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale but the manager told me I deserved to be there and to keep doing what I'd been doing at Palace.

"Gary also spoke to my parents to let them know that I was in his plans. He was a really nice person. Now everyone wants to carry on the good work that he did. Hopefully this can be the start of something big."

With Bale in the side, anything is possible. After the Tottenham Hotspur forward came through the same junior sides as Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey and Liverpool's Joe Allen, Williams is now leading the next batch of emerging Welsh talent.

Flynn, who spent eight years as Under-21 manager before taking over from Dean Saunders at Doncaster in January, even claimed Williams is as good as Bale was at the same age. "Wow, I'll take that!" Williams laughs. "I've been fortunate to play with Gareth a few times in training and everything about him is amazing. He's got everything: technical ability, focus and a real love for the game. It's great to watch and learn from someone so good."

Williams suffered a broken leg last year and had been earmarked to play an advanced midfield role under Holloway on his return. However, he has increasingly been used in a deeper position that guarantees him more involvement and, judging by the two performances against the man-mountains of Stoke City in the FA Cup earlier this season, it's a challenge he is thriving on. "I've been used to playing against bigger people from a young age in the academy so the physical side of things hasn't been a major issue for me," he says.

"I watch the Premier League a lot and you see smaller players like Jack Wilshere cope because they have technical ability. The manager has brought my game on a lot in terms of getting on the ball and being brave. Hopefully I can add a few goals."

Following in the footsteps of Wayne Routledge, Victor Moses and Nathaniel Clyne, Wilfried Zaha became the latest Palace youth academy graduate to hit the big time after sealing his £15m move to Manchester United in January. But the memory of John Bostock, now on loan at MLS side Toronto after his big move to Tottenham failed to live up to expectations, prompted Coleman to urge Williams to resist moving to the Premier League too soon.

Williams says he wants to learn his trade and is in no frantic rush to get into the top flight. The example of Routledge, who played more than 100 Palace games and is now at Swansea, has given him encouragement. "It gives you great hope that it could be you one day," he says.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions