It is early days in the 2019/20 English Premier League season but already the league table is starting to take a familiar shape.
Few people think of Dean Waugh. The younger brother to cricketing heroes Mark and Steve, who would become the backbone of the second ‘Invincibles’ side, Dean struggled to break into NSW’s Sheffield Shield team.
He went on to play a handful of one-day games for South Australia in the late 1990s before disappearing into a world without T20 cricket or Twitter, the modern focal points of a mediocre cricketer’s existence.
Two of Australia’s brightest prospects playing in English football are brothers Rhys and Ryan Williams.
Rhys Williams, 25, is going through injury problems, with an Achilles tendon keeping him out of the World Cup. When fit, Rhys is a leading player in terms of quality and potential for both club and country.
Various Middlesbrough managers have snubbed Premier League interest for the ball-playing centre half. He is versatile, which may be an inadvertent downfall, but not many players can boast to have played from rough-tackling English Championship centre half to technical attacking midfielder, and most positions in between.
Rhys was rewarded with Middlesbrough’s captaincy and looked set to become a key figure in the club’s promotion push. Injury has skewed the plan, however he is still very much a part of Aitor Karanka’s set up. He has 14 Socceroos caps and will be a leading player at the Asian Cup.
Ryan Williams, 20, was on loan to Oxford United in League Two this season from parent club Fulham. He scored eight goals in over 30 appearances and has been one of the lower league’s brightest prospects.
With Fulham relegated they will need to drop their wage bill, so don’t be surprised if he becomes a regular on the wing for them next season. Ryan Williams was originally at struggling Portsmouth and even played against Rhys in the Championship.
Ryan Williams, who has a real possibility to break into the first team, has a twin brother, Aryn, whose name can only be explained by a lack of erasers in the Perth Hospital when his father misspelt Ryan.
However Aryn, unlike Dean Waugh, is very much available and was nice enough to answer a few of my questions.
Aryn, 20, was on the books at recently promoted Burnley for a few years before being released as the club tightened its belt. Now he is back home playing in the Western Australia Premier League and hoping to do enough to earn himself a coveted A-League spot.
Football back in Australia has a variety of fundamental differences to English football, the main one being that there are only nine professional clubs with limited wages and positions available. Combine that with the large distances to travel and a different football culture, and simply returning home and slotting into an A-League XI proves harder than imagined.
Aryn is a talented ball-playing defender, similar to Rhys, and at 20 he offers A-League clubs a professionally trained youngster, willing to do anything to be a footballer again.
Patrick: You were at Burnley for a few years, how was that?
Aryn: Yeah I was at Burnley for three years all up, two years with the youth team and one year as a professional. It was a time in my life where I learnt an unbelievable amount of things within football on the pitch as well as off the pitch.
It taught me how to live away from home and fend for myself and it also taught me to not take things for granted. That’s why I cherished every moment I pulled a Burnley jersey over my head, whether it be at training or walking out onto the pitch.
P: Have you had any dialogue with A-League teams?
A: I have been on trial with Brisbane Roar as well as Western Sydney. It’s difficult because playing in England is so much different to here and with football comes joy and heartbreak and it’s never easy getting turned away by a club, but I just took it on the chin and went back to the training field to better my game and hopefully I get picked up by an A-League club in the coming pre-season.
P: Any chance with trying your luck in England, or Europe, again?
A: Heading back to England or Europe is constantly on my mind. All I want to do is be a professional footballer again, but at this very moment my head is set on playing in the A-League and I want to prove to everyone that I have what it takes to make it in the A-League.
P: I’ve read that you’re a defender, more like Rhys than Ryan?
A: That’s true. Me and Rhys both play a very similar sort of game as we both enjoy defending as well as attacking. Ryan is a skillful, quick winger which is a contrast of difference to how I play but we are both good in our ways of playing soccer.
P:You’re based in Western Australia, do you feel that professional football in Australia is too eastern-centric?
A: I definitely do think that football in Australia is very eastern-based because there is a lot more money and a lot more clubs over east, but I think Western Australia is slowly catching up. I enjoy living in Perth and there are a high number of imports playing in the Western Australia NPL so it’s good for the clubs over here as well as the state soccer federation as a whole.
P: Ryan’s had a great season at Oxford, do you think he’s capable of breaking into relegated Fulham’s team?
A: Yeah Ryan has had an exceptional first loan spell out to Oxford United. He’s scored a handful of goals and he’s proven to Oxford and Fulham that he is more than capable at playing at a higher level and I definitely think he’s in for a chance of making some first team appearances for Fulham.
P: You’ve been around England’s second tier, how do you compare it to the A-League?
A: A lot of people ask me this question and it is very difficult to compare both leagues. The A-League is definitely stepping up and it’s going to be a great league in the coming seasons, but the Championship is in a different ball park as every club is playing to get promotion to mix it with the best teams in the world in the English Premier League. So it’s hard to compare as they both are great leagues.
P: Rhys moved to England when he was quite young, how did that affect you and Ryan?
A: It was tough as me and Ryan were only 11 when Rhys jumped on a plane to the other side of the world, but you know it made us think from that day Rhys moved away from home that it’s exactly what me and Ryan wanted to do when we get to his age and it’s exactly what we did.
It was more like a blessing in disguise as he found out the hard way and made it 100 times easier for Ryan and me once it was our time to move over. Rhys has helped Ryan and me massively on and off the field with great advice for being 100 per cent for every game as well as maintaining a healthy and happy life at home, so he’s been great with how he’s helped us.
P: What do you think of the side heading to Brazil?
A: It’s a difficult situation because we have been headlined in the Group of Death and it is a tough task for the boys going over. However, I think it’s a great experience, especially for all the young boys throughout world football as well as in the A-League to show what they’re made of against the two grand finalists at the last World Cup. It’s going to be a great spectacle and I can’t wait to see all the boys over there playing on the biggest world stage of football.
The 2015 Asian Cup is only a few months away and Ryan Williams is my smokey, he’s getting game time and offers another football culture to the Socceroos’ German/A-League hybrid attack. With Rhys Williams set to be fit before the start of season, he will be physically ready for the Asian Cup. Australia’s two key players could be brothers.
Given his pedigree, if Aryn were a horse Nathan Tinkler would have already bought him. (Though it’s probably lucky the Williams brothers aren’t horses because Rhys would have already been shot with his leg injuries.)
With three years of professional training, he has an unusual background among young Australian footballers, and Melbourne Heart have recently picked up a trio of youngsters. Heart, Melbourne Victory, Adelaide and others could do a lot worse than picking up Aryn Williams.
With a mixed heritage it would be an indictment on Australian football if we lost a talented youngster to Wales or England. Then again, two out of three ain’t bad.