Rhys Williams prepares for A-League final as father battles in Malaysia
They're in the same time zone, but that's where the footballing similarities end for Australia international Rhys Williams and his English-born father, Eric. Rhys heads into the A-League finals this weekend, aiming to help Perth Glory knock out Tim Cahill's Melbourne City, while Eric is simply hoping to see out the month with Malaysian strugglers, Melaka United.
Williams senior has watched his eldest son's ups and down in his return after 11 years in England, and even offered to bring him to the Malaysia Super League (MSL) when he was on the outer with Perth coach Kenny Lowe earlier in the season. Sydney FC were interested in his services too, before Glory announced in January that there was more chance of him "flying to the moon and back" than leaving the club.
The 28-year-old utility stuck with it, resolved his differences, has emerged as a key man for Sunday's trip to AAMI Park face Melbourne City -- if he can shake the hip injury that saw him miss last weekend's 5-4 home victory over the same opponents.
"Hopefully, I will be okay for Sunday's game. I'm going to try my hardest to make it," he told ESPN FC.
Injury has been a constant companion for Williams during a career that saw him debut in the Premier League for Middlesbrough as a 20-year-old and wear the captain's armband two years later. He was selected for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, and reportedly earned the interest of Liverpool, before a brutal run of injuries, including two Achilles operations, smashed his dreams.
Williams has earned only 14 caps in eight years, but his return to his hometown of Perth saw the defender or midfielder recalled to the Australian squad for last month's 2018 AFC World Cup qualifiers. He didn't get on the pitch, but clearly, he is highly rated by Socceroos' coach Ange Postecoglou.
"I hope things have turned the corner for him because he's had a disastrous few years with injuries," his father Eric told ESPN FC. "The Confederations Cup in Russia is coming up in June, and he could be part of that. The cream always rises to the top, and people know his quality."
Eric Williams has his own challenges at struggling Melaka United, who are just one point outside the MSL relegation zone.
Last Friday, Williams and the Melaka staff held a town hall Q and A session, streamed live on Facebook, with 80 angry fans. They wanted to know why the side, who were second-tier champions last year, haven't performed well in 2017.
On April 9, Melaka were given a 7-0 hiding by champions Johor Darul Ta'zim, who scored four times in the first 33 minutes. Last Saturday, they were on the verge of only their third league win of the season, only to concede a 92nd minute equaliser at home to Felda United.
"The next two matches will define my future... sometimes I feel like a dead man walking," admitted Williams, who took over at the start of the season.
"Unfortunately, only five of the players from last year are still here, and all but one of the imports I didn't bring in. So we need to recruit some new players when the transfer window opens on the 15th of May. I understand that some of the supporters are very upset at the way the team are playing, but hopefully things will soon improve."
Born in Kent, Eric Williams moved to Australia at the age of 19, and played as a midfielder for National Soccer League and state league clubs. Rhys and his twin brothers Aryn and Ryan -- centre-back Aryn is also in the Perth Glory squad, while Ryan plays for Barnsley in England -- were brought up in Western Australia.
As his sons headed to England to find clubs, Williams carved out a coaching career in Southeast Asia, with the likes of Perseman Manokwari (Indonesia) and Yangon United (Myanmar).
In fact, the seven-goal JDT defeat was his worst result as head coach since Yangon United were trounced 9-2 by Indonesia's Persipura Jayapura in the Round of 16 of the 2014 AFC Cup. But their impressive group performances three years ago saw the Myanmar side twice beat Malaysia's Kelantan, and prevail at home over South China, of Hong Kong.
While the 61-year-old has a hundred stories about his adventures in Asia, he admits he would struggle to get a gig in the A-League, which is why he is happy to fly under the radar.
"It suits me... I don't have a big profile. I just get on with my job," he said. "I like to see my teams playing attacking football, but I also like a good structure. At Melaka, we've achieved our first target of qualifying for the Malaysia Cup. Now our second target is to stay in the league."
Melaka United don't have a competitive game this weekend, so Williams will try to find somewhere to catch Perth Glory's elimination final on television. And beyond that, with Rhys reportedly headed to Melbourne Victory next season, he's dreaming that he'll be able to be in the stands in Russia to watch his son at the 2018 World Cup.
"I nearly purchased a ticket for [the 2010 World Cup] South Africa before Rhys pulled out with a pelvic injury," he said. "[Former Middlesbrough managers] Tony Mowbray and Gordon Strachan called him the Rolls Royce. And because he's missed so many games, he's got an engine that's done only 20,000 miles, instead of 40,000. His love for the game is still there."
Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. An ex-World Cup & EPL host, he has also been a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.