The official Chelsea website marks Willian’s half-a-decade playing in London with a two-part interview. In part one today our Brazilian attacker looks back on learning the European way, becoming increasingly influential and being awarded by his team-mates…
Five years a Chelsea player and 11 years a European – or at least a footballer plying his trade in Europe – those were milestones Willian passed at the end of last month.
He left Brazil aged just 19 to further his fledging career over in Europe’s east, as many of his compatriots have, and for him specifically the destination was Shakhtar Donetsk. Willian was successful very quickly, winning the Ukrainian league and cup double in his first year there and following it up with two further doubles and an additional league title, plus a European triumph in the shape of the UEFA Cup.
A short spell in Russia at Anzhi Makhachkala followed before he was England-bound and after a phone call five years ago, if the words of his song sung in the stands are really to be believed, off he went to Stamford Bridge.
His fellow Brazilian-born team-mate, Jorginho, moved to Italy five years younger than Willian was when he went to Ukraine and consequently, Jorginho said recently that he sees himself as a European-style player. As Willian looks back with the official Chelsea website on his five years as a Blue and talks about the player he has become, he considers himself a footballer in the Brazilian style, but acknowledges big benefits came with his early move to Europe.
‘The football in Brazil is very different from the football here,’ Willian begins. ‘Football here is more aggressive, more fast. There in Brazil it is more slow, you have more space, you have time to think.
‘Here sometimes people don’t have time to think because always you are under pressure, so I think it is very difficult to adapt in Europe. At the same time it was good for me, I adapted well in this 11 years in Europe so I am very happy with my career.
‘I think I am a bit European now as well because it is a lot of different culture and I am very happy because I learnt a lot from that. I was in Ukraine and six months in Russia so with five years here as well, it has been good for me.
‘For sure it helped that I was a bit older when I came to the Premier League,’ he adds. ‘No doubts about that because I had more experience, I learned a lot and it was good for me to come here. It made it much easier to play in England. I think if I came direct from Brazil it would be more difficult to adapt but I came from Ukraine and I was able to adapt.’
Four goals to his name in his first Chelsea season – 2013/14 – and four the next, followed by 11 in 2015/16 (when he was voted Chelsea Player of the Year), 12 the league-winning season after and then 13 last campaign – it is clear from these goal totals where one aspect of his adaptation and improvement has been.
Last season was clearly his best for assists too, and by some distance he managed his most shots on-target. His speedy bursts between opponents in the middle of the park with the ball at his feet was one of the memorable features.
Willian looks back a bit further on the run of free-kicks from which he scored in the first part of 2015/16, when he made the jump from four goals a season to double figures, as crucial for his flourishing. By the end of that campaign he had not only been voted best player by the Chelsea fans but he won the Players’ Player of the Year award too. That latter accolade was handed to him by his team-mates for a second time back in May, at the end of his most prolific season yet in front of goal.
‘When you start to score goals you have more confidence, more confidence to continue to score, to continue to play well and that is football. In football you have to take your moment, and when your moment arrives you have to continue to carry on, to improve always.'
‘It was a great surprise for me when I won the Players’ Player of the Year last season, I did not expect that I had, and when they nominated me it was very emotional, and I was very happy. I don’t know why they chose me but I think I played very well last season, I think it was one of the best years in my career.
‘I improve a lot. Always when I go to the pitch I want to score goals and make assists for my team-mates, so I hope this season to do the same job that I did last season. I think I am in the good moment of my career. I am 30 years old and I arrive in the best moment of my career, so I just want to continue in the same way, to play the same or better than last season.’
If media speculation over the summer was to be believed, there was a question mark over Willian’s future and whether he would be here trying to better his previous Chelsea seasons.
‘A lot of people they say a lot of things in the press, but I never said that I want to leave Chelsea, never,’ he asserts. ‘Always I say that I want to stay at Chelsea as long as possible, and I am happy to stay here.’
He admits to being a man who thought ahead in the past, with playing in the Premier League a long-term goal.
‘My mind was always like that, always when I arrive here my plan was to stay here as long as possible and now I am here five years I hope stay five more! I know I have two years of contract left but I hope to stay more years in the Premier League.
‘I am very happy to be here five years. I have won titles and played a lot of games with a lot of happy moments, and a few sad moments as well but that is part of football, but these five years have been very good for me and I am proud to be a Chelsea player.’
- Part two the interview with Willlian will appear tomorrow.