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Ronwen Williams.

“Young man, congratulations! You deserve it. Now don’t you go and be wasting all that money. And you MUST NOT let this success get to your head.”

“I won’t sir.”

It is very late on Sunday night and we’re inside the elevator heading down to the parking levels at Gold Reef City. Ronwen Williams’s hands are full – the SuperSport United goalkeeper clutching at a huge cardboard cheque (literally and figuratively – R50 000) and a trophy.

The family we find inside the lift congratulate him on his achievement, the 19-year-old having earlier in the evening scooped the Absa Premiership’s Young Player of the Season award.

Having no doubt seen many a local player start brightly only to blow out like a candle in the wind, the man warns Williams about the pitfalls of such early success.

I’d spoken to him about the same topic in our interview a little earlier and the lad from Port Elizabeth gave an assurance he is cut from a different cloth.

“I won’t let this go to my head,” he said. “For me, this is motivation. I’m only at the beginning of my career and I know I still have a long way to go. It would be foolish to start thinking I’ve already made it.”

Smart words! But are they genuine? Will he live up to them? After all, such words have been spoken in vain before.

But Williams is reliant not only on his own will power and determination to help keep him grounded: “I’m in good hands at SuperSport. Everyone at the club is very supportive. And with that kind of support and advise from experienced people, I am sure I will be able to withstand whatever pressures that are going to come my way,” he said.

It was that support, he humbly said, which had helped see him have a fantastic maiden season in top-flight football.

So good was Williams in the season just ended that many at the awards ceremony shouted his name when they were about to announce the goalkeeper of the year award. They were also quick to voice their disappointment when Wayne Sandilands won.

Williams though had no qualms and was actually taken aback to have won the other award himself.

“I was surprised. I did not really expect much,” he said. “But I am happy to have been recognised for the hard work that I’ve put in. And I know I would not have achieved this if it were not for the people around (me).”

The young lad singled out his adversary for the SuperSport number-one sport, as well as his coach for special mention.

“Rowen (Fernandez) has been very good and I learnt from him that it is only through working hard that I’ll achieve things. And coach William Shongwe has really helped me by imparting all his experience,” he said.

Williams joined SuperSport six years ago as a 13-year-old, the goalkeeper growing at the academy. Back then he looked up to Emille Baron for inspiration.

“I was fortunate to train with Emille sometimes when he was still at the club, and I really learnt a lot from him,” Williams said of the well-travelled goalkeeper, who has kept goal for SA at under-23 and senior level.

Internationally, Williams admires the Chelsea and Czech Republic’s number one.

“Petr Cech is my role model. I think he’s a great goalkeeper and I watch his matches to pick up on things that can help me improve my game,” he said.

That he has improved cannot be denied – as evidenced by Gavin Hunt’s decision to throw the youngster into the deep end this season.

And the SuperSport coach must no doubt must be patting himself on the back for his bravery. Williams is only too grateful and happy to have vindicated the coach’s “gamble”.

“When coach Gavin gave me the jersey, it meant he trusted me. It was an honour for me that he did that and I am glad to have performed well for him and the club.”

So well, in fact, that he also won silverware this season.

“It was great to win the Nedbank Cup in my first season,” Williams said. “But that will soon be forgotten unless I keep working hard to improve on my game.”

And he too might be forgotten should he not heed the advise of that man in the elevator. After all, many a youngster who announced their arrival on the elite league’s stage in style have gone on to disappear into oblivion. having allowed early success to go to their heads.

But Williams says, “I won’t”.

WILLIAMS SHONGWE ON RONWEN

RONWEN is a good talent. He’s one of those I would call born goalkeepers. As a coach, you can only enhance certain aspects of his development, because he naturally has the talent.

He has been fortunate to go, at an early age, to a club where development structures are proper and he has clearly benefited from that. But Ronwen has this calm nature about him, which is unusual in young goalkeepers, who are too often the epitome of a panic station. Even under extreme pressure, I’ve seen him remain calm and often that would be a worry because it can be misread that he does not care.

Goalkeepers are known to give their defenders a tongue lashing whenever they concede a goal, but Ronwen hardly ever does that. He never screams or throws his toys out of the cot. And again, this might be misunderstood, and even I sometimes wish he could tell his players off. But that’s how he is. What I like though is that he is very good at giving instructions and organising his defence. His work ethic is high and Rowen Fernandez helped here by being a good role model for the young man. With his reputation as a former international keeper who has played at the highest level, Ronwen never displayed a bad attitude at being number two; he was always out there working hard, pushing himself as though he was going to be the number one at the weekend. And there was no way this youngster was going to slack when a senior player was working his socks off.

Ronwen had a fantastic debut season; the challenge is to take his game to the next level. I believe he has what it takes to do that. My worry is the fact that with all the media attention, his social standing will change. Will he be able to remain grounded? We’ll help him, but it is up to him to stay focused and not get carried away.

Shongwe is SuperSport United’s goalkeeper coach. – Star Africa


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