Teenage footballer Neco Williams has the top in sight, having been scouted at just six-years-old but as he tells Jamie Bowman, it’s important to stay grounded...

WHEN none other than Liverpool FC legend Steven Gerrard describes you as “magnificent” it must be hard to keep your feet on the ground.

But for teenage footballer Neco Williams, keeping calm is all part of the job, as the highly rated youngster celebrates signing professional terms with the Merseyside giants and looks forward to a footballing career at the very top of the game.

“I’ve signed a two-and-a-half-year professional contract with Liverpool and obviously it’s a dream come true,” says the 17-year-old, from Cefn Mawr, Wrexham. “Ever since I was a little boy it has been my dream to become a professional footballer and now I’m looking forward to the future.”

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Neco has been with Liverpool FC since U9 level when he was an attacking midfielder and a winger, but after being converted by the Academy coaches to a right back, he has prospered at the Anfield club, making his U18s debut in 2016-17 while just a schoolboy and becoming a regular starter in defence.

“I started when I was six-years-old at the pre-academy and when I was nine I had the choice to go to Liverpool or Manchester United,” he grins. “It was hard because me and the family are all United supporters but now being at Liverpool all these years I’ve turned into a Reds fan.

“I chose Liverpool because I got on with the lads there and felt more comfortable and just enjoyed it better.

“I was playing for my local team Cefn United at the time and I was at a tournament when three or four scouts came up to my dad asking about me and wanting me to go on trial.

“I was a striker then but then I became a right winger and then changed to right back when I was 16.

“With Liverpool being a right back isn’t just about defending, it’s just as much about attacking, so you’re more like a right winger and I would say crossing is one of my strongest assets.”

With about 12,000 boys currently housed in football club academies across the UK, Neco’s achievement at making it through to professional level is rare indeed.

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Hundreds of these young footballers are released each year, as the clubs narrow their focus on who might have a slight chance of making a career in professional football and becoming a valuable financial asset should they be sold on.

“I don’t know many lads who’ve signed, so this is a big thing for me and the family,” he says. “When I was 14 I moved to Liverpool and I had to leave my school in Ruabon to attend school in Rainhill.

“I took my GCSEs there and it was hard at the start but I had to just get used to it. I lived with house parents there with one other lad who is on the same team.

“I have friends now who I play with and sometimes we’ll go out for something to eat just to get out the house.”

Neco travels to Kirby to train at The Academy - a 56-acre site where Liverpool focus on their youth development and scouting.

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“All the age groups train there and then if you’re lucky enough you get picked to go to Melwood and train with the first team there,” explains the teenager. “I’ve not been there yet but I’m hoping to go there soon.

“Sometimes players drop down from the first team to train with the under 23s, so I’ve trained with players like Danny Ings, Nathaniel Clyne, Dominic Solanki and Adam Lallana.”

After being ruled out for the first part of 2017-18 with a back injury, Neco made a strong return to action and made his debut for the U23s, which is when he caught the eye of Gerrard, who was then coaching for the Reds.

“The first day of pre-season I felt my back go and it just felt weird,” he says. “I went to the physios and told them about it and they sent me for a MRI scan. I had a bi-lateral pars fracture in my lower back and I was out for seven months.

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“Because it was my back you couldn’t really do anything apart from a bit of stretching and getting massages. It’s something I have to watch constantly and I can’t lift heavy weights and I have a special programme to stick to.”

Remarkably Neco isn’t the only member of his family succeeding at Liverpool, with 14-year-old Keelan following in the footsteps of his big brother at the Anfield club’s academy.

“He’s an under 15 player but he’s playing with the 16-year-olds,” says Neco. “I see him sometimes and he’ll be trying to get my position soon as he’s a right back too.”

With Liverpool top of the Premier League, Neco is confident the good feeling spreading through the club will only increase if the Reds win their first title since 1990.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the first team but if we get to step up and train at Melwood we need to make sure that quality continues,” he says. “As a club we have to all help each other. It’s encouraging too because some managers don’t want to give young players opportunities but Jurgen Klopp is one who does.

“Hopefully if I keep improving maybe my chance will come. Age doesn’t really matter at Liverpool and if you’re good enough you’re old enough.”

Neco made his Wales U19s debut in March 2018 and is hoping he can make a further impact at international level.

“We’ve just qualified for the Euros in Holland where we’ve got Spain, the Netherlands and Slovenia, which is going to be very tough,” he says. “We’ve got some good lads from top teams like United, Liverpool and Everton.”

Family remains incredibly important for Neco, who is 18 in April, and he comes home each weekend to see proud parents Lee and Emma, as well as his three sisters, who all compete in dance competitions across the country.

“You don’t want to get carried away and just because I’ve signed my first professional contract I can’t just stop,” he adds. “I’ve got to keep improving and luckily I’ve got a lot of mates from around here who remind me where I’m from.”