THERE is no shortage of conversational topics for MJ Williams to mine when he looks back on his early days at Liverpool, a Boy’s Own rise to the first team at Anfield, or an injury that very nearly took it all away.

And the Wanderers midfielder needs little encouragement to reminisce about what it was like to train alongside Steven Gerrard, share a dressing room with Phillipe Coutinho or Jordan Henderson, or score in a penalty shoot-out in front of 40,000 people.

But the 25-year-old also readily concedes he has only recently been able to wrestle back control of his football career by letting go of some of his early disappointments in football – and that, he says, is why a move to the University of Bolton Stadium last season came at such a crucial time.

Just four years ago, Williams was being advised by those close to him in the game that he may have to retire.

A debilitating knee injury sustained shortly after he burst on to the scene as a teenager at Liverpool left him struggling mentally and physically to cope with the demands of the professional game.

It was not until he became the first English footballer to undergo a cartilage transplant – an operation carried out by world renowned orthopaedic surgeon Dr Riley J Williams – that he began to get back on track, and even then, it was a slow process.

“It scares me to think now that if it hadn’t been a success, I could have lost it all,” he told The Bolton News. “I was a nightmare back then after I’d had it. I was upset, down, the feeling that I could have lost football just made me so sad and I wasn’t in a good place at all.

“The game means everything to me. It’s all I do, watch football, talk about football, I’ll come home and I bet my girlfriend hates me.

“But that operation changed my life and I don’t really worry about my knee any more, to be honest. Back then I did. All I’d think about was ‘is my knee going to be OK?’ Am I going to be able to get through this training session or this game?’ “When you are going into every game and just worrying if you will get through it then it is no good for you.”

Liverpool funded the operation despite Williams leaving Anfield in the summer of 2018 but he admits there were hurdles he had to clear before feeling ready to play regular first team football again.

“When I’d had the surgery in America I left Liverpool and went to play at Rochdale with Keith Hill.

“He managed me quite well, being honest, but the more games that came along the more I’d be worrying about the injury happening again.

“I remember Keith Hill pulling me in one day and telling me: ‘Your knee is perfect, you need to get it out of your head. You’ve had an operation from the best knee surgeon in the world.’ “From that day it went straight out of my head. I didn’t need to talk about it anymore. I didn’t see the physios, where at one point I’d be in there every single day to check on it.

“That was the point where I started trusting myself and it hasn’t changed. Now I don’t think about it – except every article I seem to do!”

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Williams had two years at Spotland before moving to Blackpool and then, finally, to Bolton in January.

The success he enjoyed under Ian Evatt last season has left Williams in a positive frame of mind about his club future.

“I think for a long time I was stopping myself from progressing,” he said.

“But sitting here and talking to you, I’m fully fit and in the best place I have been mentally and physically for a long, long time.

“Playing at Liverpool was just the best feeling ever but there are similarities here at Bolton because you know there’s a great big fanbase who are right there watching everything. I would love to get this club up the leagues, it would be amazing.”

Representing Liverpool, as he did in the League Cup against Middlesbrough in 2014, was the realisation of a boyhood dream for Williams, who worked with the first team squad for nearly four seasons.

He believes the experience he gained at Melwood can help Wanderers as they build towards a return to League One.

“Playing for Liverpool was the biggest achievement of my career – and I’d rank what we did last season at Bolton alongside it,” he said.

“I will speak to the gaffer and Pete and they might throw a few ideas at me and I’ll say ‘this is what we did at Liverpool, would it work?’ “You can always go back to those days because you are working with the top, top people. Our gaffer is in that bracket at well. He has played Premier League and I’ll take every bit of information I can get from him.

“You can definitely keep what you learn from Liverpool in this team because we play the same sort of football, you respect possession, you respect your job in the team. It has been brilliant from the minute I walked in.

"I think about playing at Anfield every day. I loved every minute of being there. Nobody can ever take it away from me, and that was my dream from being a little kid.

“I still think about that day, stepping up to take that penalty. And I still watch it sometimes. I get goosebumps every single time.

“But it is in my past now and I am looking at a future with Bolton Wanderers – and I think when I look back in years to come some of those memories from getting promotion will have me feeling the same way. I want to be here as long as I can."

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