The Willian Saga

Willian has long been Chelsea’s ‘marmite player’. Years before Jorginho came in and challenged the Brazilian for his title of the most divisive player at the club, Willian was either loved or hated by most fans, with very few sitting on the fence. With a potential reunion between the man who ‘hates Tottenham’ and Jose Mourinho in North London this summer, I will try and give a breakdown on Willian’s time at Stamford Bridge, and whether or not we could see him stay past this summer.

Having reportedly turned down an offer of a two year contract extension, telling Esporte Interativo that he wanted ‘three more years’ at the club, Willian is free to find a new team come the season’s end. The interview, given after the Bayern Munich game in March, angered Chelsea fans worldwide. Club legends, such as John Terry and Frank Lampard, were only offered one year contract extensions after turning 30 – due to club policy – and now that the board has eased its stance for Willian, they had been rejected. In a column written for The Players Tribune, the Brazilian said, “If you ask my wife if she wants to leave London, she’ll say no”. This has led to him being linked with two of Chelsea’s biggest rivals, Arsenal and Spurs, so clearly Willian is a man in demand. After his most productive season in blue to date, why would so many fans be keen to see the back of him?

Well, despite numerous incredible displays, most notably against Barcelona; where he hit the post twice before scoring in a 1-1 UCL last 16 tie in 2018, tempting the Catalan giants to make a £50 million bid for the then 29 year old, which was promptly rejected. An excellent performance against Spurs earlier in the season will also be fondly remembered by many fans. In fact, Willian has long been the scourge of our London rivals, not only did he score both goals in our 2-0 away win over them in December, but he also backed out of a seemingly agreed switch to White Hart Lane in order to join Chelsea. However, Willian’s Chelsea career has been tarnished by an incredible inconsistency. The forward has posted an underwhelming 74 goal contributions in 230 league appearances, at a rate of one every 3 games. For context, his predecessor in the number 10 shirt, Eden Hazard, racked up a huge 146 goal contributions in 245 league games, at a rate nearly double that of Willian.

Willian’s 2 goal destruction of Spurs earlier this season earned him some good will from Chelsea fans, photo credit: irishtimes.com

Another aspect of the Brazilian’s character which has not endeared him to fans was his attitude towards Antonio Conte. Immediately after the 2018 FA Cup final victory over Manchester United, Willian uploaded an image to his social media accounts of the trophy presentation, edited so that the Italian manager’s face was covered by emojis. He insisted his daughter had done it without his knowledge. Such pettiness didn’t go down well with Chelsea supporters, with the popular Conte sacked a few weeks later only a year on from his incredible league success. 

However, despite all of the negativity surrounding previous antics, there is a reason that Chelsea offered Willian a two year contract. He has proved to be an extremely valuable player this season, regularly starting in the 3rd youngest squad in the league (with an average age of 25.3 years). Azpilicueta, Kanté and the Brazilian are the only players aged over 28 to start more than half of the league games played so far this season, building an experienced spine to Lampard’s youthful side. Despite his advancing years, the Brazilian has managed to start 25 of the available 33 league games, notching up an impressive 9 goals and 5 assists (including 3 penalties). Statistically this has been his most productive season in front of goal for the Blues already, beating his 13 goal contributions in the 2017/18 campaign. With Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic struggling for fitness for large parts of the season, Willian has stepped up and dragged Chelsea through some tough encounters. But does his form this season mean he deserves a three year contract extension?

Chelsea have been aggressive in the market, sealing deals for both Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner before the transfer window has opened. Both recruits are extraordinarily talented, and – unfortunately for Willian – are able to play on the wing. Although Werner is naturally a number 9 or a second striker, he has adapted his game to make darting runs in from the left flank, helping him to bag a phenomenal 36 goal contributions in 34 Bundesliga start this term. Ziyech, meanwhile, is a more natural winger, playing mainly on the right flank and cutting in to provide 6 goals and 13 assists from 21 league outings. With Christian Pulisic in extraordinary form and Hudson-Odoi a hugely talented youngster waiting for his chance, Willian would probably find himself to be a bit-part player at best next season. He is clearly a player with huge self-confidence, and doesn’t appear to be happy to sit on the bench. Could this push him towards the exit door?

Despite all of his talent, Willian hasn’t always produced on the pitch, with off-field antics not helping him endear himself to fans, photo credit: The Independent

It is worth noting that Willian has performed admirably this season, not just in terms of goal output. He tops the squad for key passes, creating an average of 1.9 chances every league game, as well as sitting third for dribbles, with 1.8 completed every game. He also draws more fouls than anyone in the squad (1.3 per game), and gives the ball away less than half as often as other key winger Pulisic. The fact that he has accumulated the fourth most playing minutes in the league for us this season demonstrates how highly rated he is by the manager, and should we lose him this summer it is clear that whoever starts on the wings next season has big boots to fill. 

Finally, when debating whether or not Willian should stay, it is vital to note his incredible work rate. Our 2015/16 Player (and Players’ Player) of the season, has managed the most tackles and interceptions of any of our attacking players to have started at least 5 league games, with an average of 1.9 in the league this season. This demonstrates his willingness to track back down the right flank and support whoever plays at right back. Whilst his inconsistent application – unless a new contract is up for grabs! – of his obvious talent frustrates all Chelsea fans, his effort and passion cannot be called into question.

Whenever Willian leaves it will naturally be to a mixed reception. Some will remember him at his electric best, others will remember him for constantly hitting the first man at corners, but there is no doubting how crucial he has been to Chelsea this season. With a three year contract unlikely to be offered – Willian would be pushing 35 by the time it runs out – and talents like Tino Anjorin pushing for first team minutes, it could be for the best that Willian leaves. He could probably be useful as an impact substitution, with his pace causing problems late on against weary defenders, but it is unlikely that he would be happy to fill such a role. Whatever your opinions on Willian, we can all be thankful that he signed a short-term extension in order to see out the rest of the season, when others would have looked after their own self-interests and left at the end of June. The Brazilian’s goals may still fire Chelsea to Champions League qualification, so for the rest of the season we should all get behind our number 10. After all, Spurs may have bought his flight, but…

Willian, he saw the light

He got the call from Abramovich

And off he went to Stamford Bridge

He hates Tottenham, he hates Tottenham

He hates Tottenham and he hates Tottenham!

Written by Daniel New 

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