Is Ashley Williams Really Good Enough for Manchester United, City or Chelsea?

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMarch 14, 2013

Ashley Williams, who has been linked to some rather favourable destinations recently, is good enough to play for one of the Premier League's top clubs.

At least that's the view of Chris Coleman, Williams' current international boss, who has talked up the ability of the central defender ahead of Swansea's game with Arsenal this weekend.

The former Coventry and Fulham manager told the BBC:

If I was manager of a top-four club I'd have no qualms in looking at Ashley Williams and trying to sign him.

I'm not surprised that he's being linked with big clubs [and] I'm not surprised he's done as well as he has done.

He's a terrific defender and a great personality [and has] a great mentality towards football.

Strong words from Coleman, and in the same article Michael Laudrup confirms some of the bigger clubs have checked in on him.

But is he worth the gamble, or is it right to consider him a gamble given the standard of his play?

Ashley Williams poses a true conundrum for analysts, scouts and managers when trying to measure his ability and ceiling.

It's been a steep rise for the 28-year-old, who won League One in 2008 with the club he will lead into Europe next year should he stay. In between those two extremes there's been transfer bids declined, multiple awards and, most notably, the awarding of the captain's armband for Wales.

His ball-playing abilities as a centre-back are strong, and that's an increasingly attractive trait in the modern game. Alongside him is the reliable Chico, and together they form a classic stopper-sweeper combination.

Chico—the thoroughly atypical Spanish defender—moves forward, reads the game and makes interceptions at will. His average of 3.1 per game is an EPL-high for central defenders, and he's second only to ball-magnets Morgan Schneiderlin and Sandro in the overall list.

Williams retreats when Chico moves forward, and the onus is on him to provide the last line of defence and pick up the opposition's target striker. He ranks third for clearances as a result with 11 per game, and only Mike Williamson and Ciaran Clark—two relegation-threatened centre-backs who are consistently under the cosh—better him.

He's also instrumental in the passing game, and much of Swansea's ability to control the tempo, retain the ball and, as a result, intimidate opponents is sourced in him: If your centre-backs aren't comfortable on the ball, you can't implement a squad-wide footballing blueprint.

His partnership with Chico, his aerial prowess and his comfort on the deck is a plus point point for Laudrup, who knows what he's getting from his defensive duo no matter what the arena.

The problem for others, however, is that these strengths are tough to gauge. How much of Williams' success is down to the system he's in?

It's a minor case of La Masia syndrome, whereby Barcelona youth products walk into the first team and look immediately at home. Why? Because the same brand of football is played from the U5-level to professional standard, so there's no steep learning curve.

Take that player out of Barca's Cruyff-inspired system, and what do you have? A mixed bag. Jeffren scored an El Clasico goal in November 2010, but his career is in question now that he's moved onto Sporting.

So what can Williams offer a bigger club? At 28, you'd think he's done growing, and his rapid transformation into one of the league's finer defenders is impressive enough to suggest he's a fast learner.

There's also his intangibles to consider and weigh. He's a phenomenal leader on the pitch, the kind many teams would want to be able to look to in a time of need.

Despite his obvious talent, the fact that he's excelling in a system so suited to him makes for a difficult case study.

That said, a team like Arsenal, who are crying out for a stable leader at the back, should absolutely look at Williams as a viable option this summer. He is good enough.


Statistics via WhoScored? and


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