Manchester United full-back Brandon Williams personifies the importance of hard work when it comes to making the breakthrough to first-team football, with the 19-year-old having made over 30 appearances in his debut season at first-team level.
Williams, who first travelled with the senior squad to Paris last season for that Champions League clash, was only 18 when the season began and had only just been permanently promoted to the club’s Under-23 team. But an opportunity came his way in an EFL Cup tie in September and he grabbed it with both hands and has barely been out of the picture since.
For Williams, who lacks the same exquisite natural gifts of fellow United teenager Mason Greenwood, a solid work ethic and a refusal to rest on his laurels or believe that he has made it has contributed to staying a key part of what is a developing squad.
Manchester born and bred, Williams made his Premier League debut as a late substitute in the 1-1 draw against Liverpool in October and was handed his first league start the following month, having already played 90 minutes in back-to-back Europa League games.
The youngster went on to score in his only second Premier League start, a 3-3 draw against Sheffield United, but soon found himself out of the team, and then out of the squad altogether, for a brief period in December around Christmas.
In a way that sudden absence actually helped, serving as a reality check and a focusing tool for Williams, who was not prepared to fade from prominence and was determined to stay involved.
“I got left out of the team for a few games over Christmas,” he reflected. “It made me realise I can’t be comfortable, I can’t just play a few games, I’ve got to be on it 24/7. I’ve got competition, I’ve trying to cement my place in the team.”
For Williams, the presence of Greenwood on the same path has also served to help, taking the pressure off stepping into the first-team at Old Trafford because he is with someone he has always been with. That there are also older academy graduates like Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard who have experienced the journey before is another a boost and captures the culture of the club.
The latter pair, he says, have looked out for him as soon as he arrived in the first-team.
Greenwood, meanwhile, is someone he calls ‘crazy’ talented.
“It makes it so much more special playing with the likes of Mason who I grew up with through the youth system,” Williams said. “In the changing room when you’re 10 or 11, you joke about it then when we walk out at Old Trafford – it makes it so much easier.”
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