Christmas can be a busy time for footballers in some parts of the world, and that is the case in Saudi Arabia, where players from all continents will spend Dec. 25 training ahead of some big-league clashes.
Al-Qadisiyah Capt. Rhys Williams has plenty of experience of a packed December schedule when playing for Middlesbrough under current England Manager Gareth Southgate.
Now 32, the Australian knows how important it is to stay sharp even when friends and family worldwide are tucking into turkey, cakes and chocolate.
“I think (training) is quite normal for everyone, even in my time in England,” Williams told Arab News. “It’s a busy time for the fans and the football clubs. It’s Christmas, but you have to rein yourself in and be professional about it.”
He added: “Obviously it would be nice to have the full day off with your family, but on the other hand we’re in such a privileged position to be doing the job we love. We have to take the sacrifices. A professional career isn’t forever. You just soak it in for as long as possible, and when the football is finished then you can enjoy it to the full.”
There will be no Christmas gatherings or chats, online or otherwise, with fellow Australians in the league such as Brad Jones of Al-Nassr and Al-Taawoun’s Mitch Duke.
“Everyone’s got their own thing to do, everyone’s got their family here and everyone’s in the same position in that they’ll be training on that day. I think we see each other enough!” Williams said.
“You just want to get to training, and it’s the one day of the year where you want it to be … nice and quick and sharp, and get out of there and get home back to your family.”
Sunday’s clash is a big one with Al-Qadisiyah, promoted back to the top tier at the end of last season, in eighth taking on Ettifaq, two places higher. So competitive is the league that a win could take either team into the top three.
“It’s a massive game, especially after the loss to Al-Hilal two nights ago,” said Williams, referring to Monday’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of the champions and current leaders.
“It was tough to take, and I thought we did OK. A couple of decisions could’ve gone either way on the night. You have to take it on the chin. We’re a newly promoted team and looking good. We can’t wait to put things right again.”
A good end to the year would be welcome, but 2021 may be an uncertain time for the player. “It’s a year that could be quite funny as I’m coming out of contract,” he said.
“It’s up at the end of the year, so come January I’m half a free agent. There are things I want to address pretty quickly if possible.”
Williams would welcome nothing more than to sign a new contract at the club where he has been happy since 2018, when he arrived from Melbourne Victory.
“I’d love to stay, but if it isn’t possible then you have to see what’s out there,” he said. “January is a funny time for a footballer coming out of contract. I feel like this is my club, and I captain the club on match days. I feel at home here, and my family is at home here. I’d love to stay, but ultimately we all know the ball isn’t in my court. We’ll see. Like I said, January is a funny period where anything can happen.”