Comparisons can be tough for young players. They can be both inspiring, and a huge compliment, while also cranking up the pressure and expectation during a critical stage of their respective careers.
Former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino once burdened a young player called Marcus Edwards when he compared him to a certain Lionel Messi. He was sold in 2019 with just the solitary Spurs appearance to his name.
Liverpool have seen it countless of times through the years too. Herbie Kane was once dubbed for future greatness by Steven Gerrard in the former Liverpool captain’s autobiography.
“These boys (Alexander-Arnold and Kane) really caught my eye,” wrote Gerrard in My Story (2016), arguably the most influential player in Liverpool’s history.
Now 19-year-old Rhys Williams is under the spotlight and is the latest to receive a glowing referral from his former Kidderminster Harriers manager James Shan.
“He came in, looking the part, and you’re thinking oh my God, he’s Virgil van Dijk in disguise!” the 34-year-old former Cheltenham Town midfielder said as per The ECHO.
“He played every game. He struggled the first month and made three mistakes that cost us three goals but he held his hands up for all of them and I think that was the making of him. From there he just got better and better.”
The comparison is a big compliment for Williams, and it is also quite a daunting recommendation to live up to.
Conor Coady, now captain of Wolverhampton Wanderers, was previously likened to Gerrard during his time with Liverpool.
He was given a glowing reference on the FA website, as per the International Business Times which read: “A real box-to-box player, whose style of play has seen him likened to Liverpool club-mate Steven Gerrard in the past, Coady has previously been capped at U16 level too and acts like the heart-beat of a team by providing support to the attack and steel in the defence.”
And who could forget one of the most iconic Liverpool referrals in recent times when a 22-year-old Joe Allen was touted by former Reds manager Brendan Rodgers as the ‘Welsh Xavi’.
Shoot for the stars
It’s fair to say that not everyone can handle the pressure required to make it to the top and the likes of England international Coady should add a dose of realism to calm the Williams/ Van Dijk comparisons with.
If you offered Williams the career Coady has had, he certainly would take that right now.
Williams can aim even higher perhaps, especially when you consider he has already made more appearances for Liverpool than Coady ever did.
It has been quite a few weeks for Williams following his Champions League debut in midweek and he could be about to cap off an extraordinary October period with the Premier League 2 Player of the Month award.
The Liverpool teenager made two appearances for Barry Lewtas’ team in the division and was on the scoresheet following a thumping header during the 3-1 home win to Chelsea.
It was an unforgettable month in which Williams also made further strides at first-team level, starting the Carabao Cup fourth-round tie against Arsenal and then featuring off the bench in each of the Champions League clashes with AFC Ajax and FC Midtjylland.
It will take a lot of luck and determination for Williams to make the breakthrough from young prospect to first-team regular especially when you consider that the best defender in world football eventually will return to the mix for Jurgen Klopp.
Right now, however, he has to believe in himself and continue to play without fear – while not allowing the media attention and words of approval go to his head or weigh him down.
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