Let’s say you’ve just left university and started work at a small, independent lawyer’s office.
You don’t plan to be there forever, but for the time being, your skills are well-suited to the job. It’s mostly behind-the-scenes administrative work for now. The pressure is off, and in your mind, you have years of climbing the ladder ahead of you before you even set foot in a courtroom.
Within six months, though, you’ve been hired by the biggest law firm in the country, and in a freak set of circumstances, every other lawyer has rung in sick for the foreseeable future, leading to a dip in productivity unlike anything the company has experienced in years.
You’re called into action at the High Court of Justice. In the blink of an eye, you’ve gone from an ambitious pencil-pusher to the last line of defence separating your clients from the wrath of judge and jury – and at a time when your employers’ reputation can scarcely afford another hit.
In many ways it’s a dream come true, but you’re just 19 years old, so you make some mistakes – and every single one of them is dragged out, highlighted in bold, and put under the microscope.
Seems unfair, doesn’t it?
Yeah, so can we lay off Rhys Williams for a bit?
When the teenage defender made his Champions League debut for Liverpool against Ajax earlier this season, so much was made of the fact that as recently as last season, he was playing for (and getting his nose broken at) Kidderminster Harriers, in the sixth tier of English football.
In the weeks that followed, he went on to become a semi-regular in the first-team. He delivered a handful of really good performances against Midtjylland, Atalanta and Spurs, and it was really highlighted that as recently as last season, he was playing for Kidderminster Harriers, in the sixth tier of English football.
Yet, after his first genuinely bad performance, it seems to have been immediately forgotten that, as recently as last season, he was playing for Kidderminster Harriers, in the sixth tier of English football.
There’s no denying he struggled in Sunday’s FA Cup defeat to Manchester United. His positional sense and decision-making looked naive, and Marcus Rashford got the better of him throughout 90 trying minutes. For the first time since his emergence in the first team, Williams looked really out of his depth.
But the recognition of his situation has to work both ways. If his fairytale back-story is worth a mention when he is doing well, then it is important to consider also when he is struggling.
He’s a teenager who has unexpectedly jumped five divisions; as recently as March, he was making his final appearance for Kidderminster against Southport. Now he’s being expected to start against the premier league leaders at Old Trafford.
Under normal circumstances, he would be nowhere near those high-pressure games. Ideally, it would be a Curtis Jones-style introduction: first in the EFL Cup, then the occasionally FA Cup tie, then finally a few minutes now and again in the bigger games until he is finally ready.
It’s a process that should take several years, yet injury-enforced circumstances have dictated that for Williams, it has taken just a few months.
Take football out of the equation, and what we have is young person learning on the job, while shouldering far more responsibility than he should have to.
It’s a dream come true, but at times like this, it seems like a nightmare. Showing some awareness and support is the only course of action.