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Liverpool youngster almost retired aged 22 but phone call changed everything

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Jordan Williams has enjoyed something of a rollercoaster career so far.

The former Liverpool youngster lived his boyhood dream when playing for the Reds back in 2014, while this season he played a vital role for Bolton Wanderers as they won promotion to League One.



At a glance it is a story dozens of former Liverpool hopefuls share, forging successful careers in the Football League when unable to make that final step up at Anfield.



But scratch beneath the surface and Williams’ own tale is very different.



Now 25-years-old, seven years have passed since he made his solitary appearance for the Reds, against Middlesbrough in a League Cup tie, while it has been six years since he earned his maiden international call-up for Wales.

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The Dragons open their Euro 2020 campaign at home to Switzerland on Saturday and in another lifetime, the midfielder would have had every right to be fighting for a place in Rob Page’s squad.

But ultimately, that first call-up for his country was the first step down a dark path that very nearly ended in retirement because of a serious knee injury when Williams was aged just 22.

Thankfully for the midfielder, Liverpool and a New York surgeon had other ideas as a cartilage donor ultimately saved his career.

“The week when I came back from Wales, I was on such a massive high,” he recalled in an exclusive interview with ECHO. “I went back to (loan club) Swindon on the Thursday, trained on the Thursday and Friday and then we had a game on the Saturday.

“I just remember the ball going over my head and I’ve tackled from the side and won the ball back but as I’ve got up to start dribbling with the ball, I just remember a click in my knee. I did my meniscus.

“I had a chondral defect from when I was 16 which they saw and that’s when I went to the surgeon in London. He said they were going to tidy up my meniscus and whatever it was, but he was a bit worried about my chondral defect. Basically it’s a soft part in between your knee and mine was cracked a little bit, but it started getting bigger and bigger.

“He said he was worried about it at the time but I could still carry on playing but we needed to keep an eye on it.

“I came back from that injury and had no problems. I then went out on loan again, this time to Rochdale, because I only had a year left on my deal at Liverpool and felt I needed to put myself in the shop window and try and get a move for after Liverpool just in case I didn’t get offered anything else at Liverpool.

“I went to Rochdale and was doing really well but it got to October and I couldn’t deal with the pain anymore. I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to go out injured and be out for a year.”

He continued: “We played Plymouth away and were on the coach for about seven hours. My knee was bent most of the time and when I got off the coach, it was pain I hadn’t felt in my knee before. I managed to get through it by taking tablets, pain-killers, anti-inflammatories, everything I could to try and keep it down as much as I could.

“The next day we had the game and I remember thinking in the warm-up, “I can’t play here,” but my mum’s always said to me, “You don’t come off the pitch until you can’t walk,” so I thought, “I’ve got to play this game, no matter what.” I played the 90 minutes, got through it but knew I was nowhere near my 100%.

“On the way back, my knee just blew up. There was a lot of fluid in it so it swelled up. I rang Andy Renshaw, who was my physio at Liverpool at the time, and said, “Andy, I need to come and see you. I think I’ve got a problem with my knee again.” I went in on the Monday and he just knew straight away from looking at it. He was like, “Oh my god, what’s happened?”

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“That is when I went down to London and spoke to the surgeon. He said, “Two years ago I told you I was worried about it but now I’m really worried about your career and life after football, whether you’ll be able to walk. I can do an operation for you but it’ll take about 15-18 months and no footballer has come back from it.

“I was sitting there thinking I’d rather just retire but because I was so young, I knew I couldn’t retire and I didn’t want to. He said I could inject it and build strength up in my knee again to protect it by doing quad exercises and stuff, but I’d done that in the past and it doesn’t work.”

That’s when a phone call from Liverpool’s club doctor ultimately saved his career.

“I didn’t know what to do and then the Liverpool club doctor called me and told me there was someone over in New York who could fix it for me. He gave me the contact details and I had a meeting with Liverpool where I said I wanted to go over to New York, meet the guy and see what he could do.

“So they flew me out to New York and I was only sat down with him for 10-15 minutes. He went, “I’ve seen your scans. This is the problem and this is what I can do,” and then showed me live pictures of what he could do to my knee and how he would do it.

“He was like, “It’s an easy job for me,” and I’ve gone from thinking I’m retiring to this guy saying it’ll take me six months to get me back on the pitch and I’ll have a 12-15 year career. I didn’t know what to do, I was just in shock.

“He said, “It’s going to be a donor cartilage so you have to wait for someone to pass away who matches your height, is an athlete and active.” Stuff like that. He said, “When that happens, if you’re happy to go along with the operation, you have to be over here in nine days because you only get a certain amount of time to put it into the knee.”

“I flew to New York in the morning then flew back the same day. I didn’t even have a look around New York. I came back and knew straight away. I spoke to my agent and said we’re 100% doing it. It was my last chance and best chance of getting back on the pitch.”

A week later Williams was on his way back to New York to have his career-saving operation with Liverpool, despite the midfielder being in the final months of his contract, paying for the procedure.

And the 25-year-old is beyond grateful, knowing how different his life could have been had it not been for his boyhood club with the Reds helping him through some of his darkest days.

“I had the operation and spent about 10 days over in New York,” Williams recalled. “Two days of it getting the operation done and the rest of it doing rehab, like physio work. They bent my knee up to my bum. I hadn’t been able to do that for two or three years.

“When he first did it, I was in shock and jumped off the bed. He said, “Just relax, your knee is in a better place now,” and pushed it right up to my bum. That was when I knew I must be in a better place now.

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“I was in the hospital bed with a lot of tears because I knew this was my last chance to get back on the pitch.

“It was a tough time before I went out to New York. I had a lot of dark times. I was by myself. My mum would come round but I didn’t want anyone around me. I was in a place where I didn’t know what to do with my life.

“For someone to say football was going to be taken away from me, when that was all I had known all my life. Liverpool were trying to look after me, asking if I had any GCSEs or qualifications but I didn’t have anything. I just concentrated all about football and luckily enough it all paid off in the end.”

He continued: “The rehab was tough at Liverpool because it was a lot of leg exercises and getting fit while I was going through tough times at home, not knowing if it would work.

“Mentally it was tough but I managed to come through it and it’s made me a better person. When I went back out on the pitch for the first time and I was running about, I couldn’t believe it. I had no pain in my knee and I hadn’t been able to say that for two or three years, trying to manage it, but it was the best feeling ever when I managed to play my first game.

“I owe Liverpool everything. It shows how great a club it is. They’re a proper family club who look after their own. I had six months left on my deal so they didn’t have to do it but they did.

“I think it cost about £140k-£150k with everything included in it. It’s a lot of money and I’m sure if I was in League One or League Two, it never would have happened because of the funds.

“I owe them everything for sticking by me. I had great support. I had the likes of Alex Inglethorpe, Phil Roscoe, the physios. Everyone was behind me and I could speak to them about everything.

“I had tough times and it is tough in football because sometimes you have to put a face on like you’re not struggling, but I just knew I could speak to them and get help and I did.

“I was probably going out a bit too much because it was my happiness, being around mates. I didn’t have anything else. I’d go into football not feeling the best, would come home and close the curtains, just wanting to eat and sleep.

“I had to get through those times because I knew it was my only chance. If I was putting weight on, I couldn’t do it so I spoke to Liverpool and got the help that I needed. I saw a counsellor and he helped me out loads so I was in a much better place a month after the operation and that helped me to focus on what I needed to do to get back on the pitch.

“I don’t know what I would have done but I try to look at it as a positive because I’ve come back from that. Now, every day I just enjoy life. Life is too short and it scared me, how quickly football could have been taken away from me.

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“I enjoy it every day and live for football every day. I don’t take a day for granted. I give everything I can every single day. I’ve come far and this season has been the icing on the cake.

“The amount of games I’ve played since it too. I remember the physio at Liverpool saying, “Once you get to 40 games, that’s when you’ll know it’s working.” When I got to 40 games he rang me and said well done.

“I embrace it now. If people want to talk about my knee, I’ll talk about it. People are like, “What? You’ve got a donor cartilage?!” And then you find you’ve got six other people sitting on the table and listening to you.

“It’s an amazing story but at the same time I do try to forget about it too because even when I came back, every single day I would think about my knee. It took one manager to say, “You’ve got a perfect knee now. Forget about it, it’s all good.” From that day, every day I just crack on and don’t worry about it.”

Having gone through such an ordeal, Williams can relate to what the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are currently going through at Liverpool as they fight back from season-ending knee injuries to be fit for pre-season.

In the case of the latter, the former Red knows exactly how he’ll be approaching his recovery having shared the treatment room with the England international when the defender suffered an ACL injury back in October 2015.

And with the likes of Danny Ings and Lucas Leiva also enduring similar injuries during their own stints at Anfield, Williams has recalled how the aforementioned trio helped him with his own road to recovery.

“You had Danny Ings, who was struggling with a knee injury so I was quite close to him and we’d talk about our knees,” he said. “He’d have days where it was stiff and I was explaining why it was. It was good to have someone else who has been through a knee injury to bounce off.

“Lucas Leiva was the same as well. He was the best guy. When you’re training with him and you’re playing with him, you see how good he is. He was one of the best in training, with the first team, every single day, the way he applied himself.

“I remember him playing for us against Arsenal once, I think he only played 45 minutes but it was the best 45-minutes performance I had ever seen at that level. It is hard when you drop down and play for the Under-23s but at Liverpool, no-one would ever sack it off. That was the mentality the lads have.

“Joe Gomez is a top player and has struggled with injuries, it’s been tough with him, but I realised how tough he is mentally. He cracks on. I’ve seen him in the past in the gym, after he did his knee when I was at the club, it was just amazing.

“When I was in the gym, some days you just don’t want to be there. It is tough, you want to be out on the pitch and you see all the lads having a laugh as you’re sat in a dark place in the gym just doing all your exercises. I took a lot from Joe Gomez and how he approached it. He’s a top guy.”

Jordan Williams in the heart of the action as Bolton Wanderers players as they celebrate their automatic promotion with a small group of supporters after the Sky Bet League Two match between Crawley Town and Bolton Wanderers at The Peoples Pension Stadium

Now having won promotion with Bolton, Williams has his eyes set on taking the Whites back up the Football League ladder and admits he dreams of a Wales recall one day.

But for now, he’s just happy supporting his home nation in a major tournament as a fan, taking each day as he comes and just being glad that he’s in a position where he can enjoy football again.

“I am enjoying my football again and I’m in a successful team. It’s all I’ve wanted in my career,” he said. “Without Liverpool I wouldn’t be here now, playing for Bolton and getting promoted. I owe them everything.

“Getting promoted was the sweetest moment because all those tough days in the past have now paid off.

“A Wales recall would be the icing on the cake for me now but all I can do now is concentrate on Bolton and do as well as possible.

“Other stuff like that will come if I do well. That’s what I’ve got to do, just keep enjoying football, not take a day for granted and keep coming in with a smile on my face.”


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