Toffee Talk

Everton yearning to bring back the glory days

In this exclusive column, Wales captain Ashley Williams looks forward to the season ahead with his new club, Everton.

It was a simple message that I had for my team-mates when we'd come so close, unbelievably, to reaching the final of a tournament, only to be thwarted at the semi-final stage.

Let's not get down about it, I said. We had arrived at Euro 2016 in France with pride and ambition, having qualified for a major tournament for the first time in 58 years, an achievement in itself for Wales. And we did our job. We achieved something no one thought we would. So I said to the players not to feel down but instead to enjoy the moment, enjoy what we'd managed to do and go home and focus on trying to qualify for the World Cup Finals in 2018.

We left France with our heads held high. We were proud of what we achieved. I didn't watch all of the final, just the second half and extra time. My friend, Eder, who used to play at Swansea, scored the winner for Portugal and I was happy for him, but a little part of me felt that it might have been us celebrating. We'd gone so deep into the tournament. Only a Champions League or a World Cup could give you that same feeling and, certainly having tasted it, I want to be on the stage again before my career is over.

As I have got older, I feel I have become better. I feel confident on the pitch and I have the knowledge and understanding of the game now that I didn't have when I was younger. Moving from Swansea to Everton this summer, I felt the timing was right. I had a great eight years at Swansea, I was really proud of captaining the club and gaining promotion to the Premier League and embedding ourselves in the biggest league in the world was great. But Everton is a massive club going in the right direction, with a great manager and passionate fans. There is a yearning for the kind of success which has made them the fourth most successful team in the history of English football, winning as many league titles over the years as Chelsea and Manchester City combined.

The early days of the season, the way the squad is shaping up, there's no reason why we can't have a positive campaign. Ronald Koeman as manager is a big factor. He did a great job at Southampton and he's brought the same principles to Everton. Training is very intense, more intense than I've been accustomed to previously in my career, and he's focused also on making you think. He wants you to understand your role as a player and how that fits within the team. He's very big on team ethic and playing a high-intensity, high-pressing game.

Ashley Williams, 32, weighing up his options during Everton’s 4-0 win against Yeovil Town in the second round of the League Cup at Goodison Park on Tuesday. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

(Ronald Koeman) wants you to understand your role as a player and how that fits within the team. He's very big on team ethic and playing a high-intensity, high-pressing game.

He has real presence, too, and you know he's there when he enters a room without him having to say or do anything. As a player, he was one of the best in the world, part of a great Dutch team who won a major tournament for the first time in their history at Euro '88 and he scored the winning goal in a Champions League final for Barcelona in 1992 at Wembley. From my point of view, he played in my position on the pitch in central defence and I know his knowledge of the game will help me.

Everton is a club at the heart of the community. It has that community spirit and bond between the club and the fans. Everton in the Community, the charity at the heart of the club, is incredible in how it affects the lives of people in the community, changes their lives and saves lives. I'm looking forward to contributing to that in the months and years to come because I know how important it is for the club to continue to make that difference.

And I know how important it is to build something on the pitch, too. We feel that we're doing that and we've made a positive start. Keeping that sharp focus and concentration, working hard and playing a high-intensity game with ambition and pride and trying to achieve something at the club will be what we're about.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Everton yearning to bring back the glory days'. Print Edition | Subscribe