Jonny Williams: Wales' 'Joniesta' dreams of facing Andres Iniesta

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport
Jonny Williams and Ashley Williams
Jonny Williams (left) celebrates with Ashley Williams after Wales beat Andorra 2-0 in October 2015

Should Wales face Spain at Euro 2016 and the players swap shirts at the final whistle, one Welshman will lay claim to the prized jersey of Barcelona star Andres Iniesta.

Jonny Williams was a part of the squad which helped Wales reach a first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, and now he dreams of facing his idol next summer.

Known as 'Joniesta' since breaking into Crystal Palace's first team as a teenager, Williams' nickname is as affectionate as it is tongue-in-cheek - though not without genuine compliment to the Welsh playmaker.

The sprite-like 22-year-old might be unlikely to scale the same heights as the Spanish midfielder who scored the 2010 World Cup final winner and has helped Barcelona dominate domestically and across Europe.

But Williams has his sights set on Euro 2016 and testing himself against football's elite.

Barcelona's Andres Iniesta (left) scores Spain's winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final against Netherlands
Barcelona's Andres Iniesta (left) scores Spain's winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final against Netherlands

"There will be fights if someone takes the Iniesta shirt away from me," Williams says with a grin.

"That would be special. I've always loved watching Spain at the Euros and World Cups. It would be something else to draw them."

Hampered progress

Born in Pembury, Kent, but qualifying for Wales through his Anglesey-born father, Williams has represented Wales at every level from Under-15.

Since making his senior debut in 2013, however, injuries have limited the midfielder to only eight caps.

"I feel like I've been around for a while now because my first squad was back when I was 17 under Speedo [Gary Speed] and I'm 22 now," he says.

"I would've hoped to have played a lot more games for Wales but for one reason or another - mainly injuries - I've been prevented from doing that."

Jonny Williams (right) helped Nottingham Forest beat bitter rivals Derby County in November 2015
Jonny Williams (right) helped Nottingham Forest beat bitter rivals Derby County in November 2015

Williams suffered a fractured fibula while playing for Wales Under-21s in November 2011 and was out for four months.

Since then several muscular injuries have hampered his progress, though loan spells at Ipswich and Nottingham Forest have helped get his career back on track.

Williams has made six appearances for Forest since joining on loan from Palace in September, while he also started Wales' final Euro 2016 qualifier against Andorra.

Renewing Dutch rivalry

Next up is Friday's friendly against Netherlands, with Williams likely to be in the starting line-up again in the absence of players such as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

Williams was in the Wales side the last time they were without Bale and Ramsey, a 2-0 friendly defeat to Netherlands in June 2014.

"We put on a good performance without two of our best players, so this is another opportunity for the other players," he adds.

"The likes of [Arjen] Robben and [Georginio] Wijnaldum are big players. It's a real test for us to see how far we've come and how we can cope without our two best players.

"Hopefully we can play some nice football and get on the ball - if you've got the ball they can't score."

Jonny Williams in action against Netherlands in 2014
Jonny Williams, in action against Netherlands in 2014, made his Wales debut against Scotland in 2013

Last year's meeting was a straightforward send-off for Netherlands ahead of the 2014 World Cup, with Wales looking on enviously as the Oranje prepared for a journey to Brazil which would end with a 3-0 victory against the hosts in the third-place play-off.

In Cardiff on Friday, however, it will be a different tale.

Whereas Netherlands are now rebuilding after a failure to qualify for Euro 2016, Wales can look forward to a first major tournament for more than half a century.

And if his dream encounter with Spain does not materialise, Williams has another opponent in mind.

"It would be nice if we could draw England. That would be some occasion - there would be fireworks," he says.

"We've got to be positive about our chances. We're not going there to make up the numbers."