WHEN the greatest talk, you cannot help but listen.
Having only turned 20 in March, Barnsley defender Ben Williams may still be a ‘baby’ in footballing terms – to coin the phrase of Sky Sports’ pundit Graeme Souness – but it is the advice of Wales manager and Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs that he is more inclined to follow.
Giggs’s softly-spoken Mancunian brogue imparted invaluable wisdom to the young full-back and provided a sense of belonging when he joined up with the senior Wales squad earlier this year.
The tone of the message may have been delivered rather less forcibly than the no-nonsense Glaswegian utterances of Sir Alex Ferguson to Giggs when he was breaking through at Old Trafford, but the duty of care was very much the same.
Work hard and listen – and if you are young enough, you are good enough to rub shoulders with the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
Back in Giggs’s formative years, it is likely to have been with Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes.
Preston-born Williams, who qualifies for Wales through his grandfather, said: “He (Giggs) is very good with everyone in the team.
“He said that in the times I had been there that I had done enough to get picked. To get that recognition from someone like Ryan gave me a massive boost. You use everything you can and I want to use it to do well at Barnsley this season.
“Especially with the quality around you. Just to be able to train with people like (Gareth) Bale, I felt like I improved massively.
“The confidence it gives you makes you more determined and hungry to achieve better things with your club. It is something to remember.”
Williams’s promotion to the full Wales squad may have ensured that he has had a busy old summer with little rest, but it is a summer that he wishes could last for a fair bit longer.
After drinking in the scenes of a sweet promotion with his club, his good feeling was fortified by a call-up for Wales’ European Championship games in Croatia and Hungary in June.
He had earlier spent a week at a warm-weather training camp in Portugal before continuing to train with the squad in Chester – ahead of the continental double-header after being named in a whittled-down squad.
A regular in the Wales age group sides, Williams had the likes of Ben Woodburn and Ethan Ampadu for company, with the young full-back being one of four uncapped players in the senior squad alongside Joe Rodon, Dylan Levitt and Kieffer Moore.
After his international involvement, Williams soon returned to club business with the Reds as they started to prepare for life back in the Championship. A hectic, but an undeniably happy time in any emerging player’s career.
Williams, busy preparing for today’s home encounter with Luton, added: “I had about 10 days off. I just managed to get away to Ibiza. But it was a really memorable summer in getting promoted at Barnsley – what a season that was – and getting my first Wales (senior) call-up.
“I did not get on, but it was a really good experience to take things away from and I feel it can kick me on in my club career.”
As thoughts across the country invariably now turn to darker nights and the mists and mellow fruitfulness of autumn, Williams can at least reflect on a positive journey in the past 12 months – with his career on an upward trajectory.
This time last year, Williams had not even made his Reds debut, with a breakthrough moment coming against today’s opponents in a league game at Oakwell in October.
A week on from an exemplary full league debut under Daniel Stendel in a handsome 4-0 win at Peterborough United, Williams did not have it all of his own way on his home bow and conceded a penalty in the 3-2 televised win over the Hatters.
But his response to that moment in first-half stoppage time was a mature and forceful one and a useful lesson in his development all the same. He has learned plenty more in a rewarding past 12 months.
Williams said: “It was a top-of-the-table clash early on in the season and one of my first in the league.
“But I think I have learned from that massively and playing in the Championship shows how far you can come in the space of a year.”
Admitting to ‘pinching himself’ at his rapid progress since early last term, he continued: “Definitely. I did not think it would be anything like this. Now it has happened, I am used to it already and it is a case of kicking on now.
“The fact that the gaffer has faith in you shows he has faith in young players. It has given me a big boost and shows that if any young player has the will to get better, then the gaffer will have faith in you. It is about taking your chance.
“The managers throughout the youth ages have helped. But the biggest thing is the gaffer giving me a chance. At quite a lot of clubs that you go to, they will not give you that chance like this gaffer has done. I can only give credit to him.”
Few will make predictions with any degree of certainly at this early stage of a season, but what can be taken as read is that Barnsley’s Championship adventure will continue to be a learning curve for Williams and his Reds team-mates.
A 2-0 midweek loss at Birmingham was a case in point, but do not expect Barnsley’s young bucks to dwell on it.
“It is a cliché, but if you do get knocks, you just get up again,” said Williams.
“It is a league where you cannot dwell on stuff and have to move on quite quickly.
“I think all the lads are like that and have that mentality that nothing is going to keep us down.
“It is early on in the season and I do not think the lads are that worried about anything.”