Ashley Williams first came to the attention of former Swans manager Roberto Martinez in 2007 when he was playing for Stockport County. Initially joining Swansea on-loan from Stockport County in March 2008, with a view to permanently becoming a Swansea City player the following season.
After being released by West Bromwich Albion as a teenager, Williams went on to play non-league for Hednesford Town and was determined to prove that West Bromwich had made a big mistake in releasing him. He turned professional with Stockport County in 2003 and eventually became captain at Stockport and actually made his international debut for Wales in 2007, while still at the club, when it was discovered that he had a Welsh grand-mother. In the 2008-09 season he joined Swansea City for £400,000. He was also awarded the North-West player of the year award in the same year. This was some achievement when you consider that the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were playing for Manchester United at that time.
Swansea City Career
Williams soon became a firm favourite with the Swans fans and played every league game in his first season. He went on to play 352 games for the Swans scoring 14 goals. He became a mainstay of the Swans defence in his eight years with the club and during that time he rarely missed a game. On 16th September 2008, he scored his first goal for the Swans at Derby County. He formed a prodigious partnership with the then Swans skipper Garry Monk, which led the Welsh club into the Premier League for the first time in season 2010-11, via a play-off final win at Wembley. That day they beat Reading 4-2 in front of 34,000 Swansea City fans with Scott Sinclair scoring a hat-trick for the Swans.
Premier League with Swansea City
Williams continued to be a major player for the Welsh side in the Premier League. Despite losing their first fixture in the league, 4-0 to Manchester City, Swansea City managed to finish their debut season in 11th place. Brendan Rodgers left to join Liverpool and was replaced as manager the folowing season by Danish superstar Michael Laudrup. Williams was made team captain by Laudrup and Swansea went on to win their first ever major trophy by beating Bradford City in the League Cup final 5-0 at Wembley in February 2013. Williams then also captained Swansea City in the Europa League the following season, where they reached the Round of 32 and were beaten 3-1 on aggregate against Italian giants Napoli, despite putting up a brave fight in both legs of the tie. Laudrup was sacked and was replaced by Swans veteran Garry Monk, who had been at Swansea City as a player since 2004 and Williams again retained the team captaincy. Despite an excellent first season as manager, Monk was sacked on 9th December 2015 and was eventually replaced by the Italian coach Francesco Guidolin. Ashley played his last game for Swansea City on 1st May 2016 in a 3-1 win against Liverpool.
Williams played 64 times for Wales when a Swansea City player. He also captained the Welsh side on many occasions. Over the summer he famously lead the team to the semi finals of UEFA EURO 2016 where they lost 2-0 to eventual champions Portugal. He did score only his second ever goal for Wales in the 3-0 quarter final win against Belgium in Lille.
Ashley Williams had always remained loyal to Swansea City, despite rumours of approaches from so-called big clubs during transfer windows that have come and gone. This time, however, the approach from Everton for his services proved to be too tempting for Williams. He leaves Swansea after eight fantastic seasons at the Liberty Stadium club and that despite Swansea trying to retain his services. In a statement to www.swanseacity.net Chairman Huw Jenkins had this to say about Williams leaving:
"It is definitely not something we wanted to happen," Jenkins told the Swans' website.
"But having turned down Everton's initial offer, Ashley expressed his desire for a new challenge."
Jenkins continued: "Taking into account the excellent service Ashley has given this football club over the last eight years, including as club captain, we reluctantly agreed to his request to join Everton after they made an improved offer.
"It goes without saying that we wish him the very best with his new challenge and thank him for his services."
Ashley Williams will be missed by everybody at Swansea City, the fans and players alike, and he's sure to have a warm welcome on his return to the Liberty Stadium as an Everton player.