In the first part of his interview with the official Chelsea website yesterday marking five years at the club, Willian looked back on moving to Europe and England and his improvements since. Today he talks this season, restaurants, haircuts and tattoos…
Onto the present then, and early life under Maurizio Sarri. When both Willian and Pedro were selected in starting line-ups at the beginning of the season, they were fielded on the opposite flanks to the ones they predominantly occupied the previous few years, but on Saturday against Bournemouth when it was Willian and Eden Hazard starting, it was the Brazilian back on the right and Hazard operating more down the left, shades of Willian’s World Cup with Brazil when a lot went through Neymar down the left side with our man asked to provide balance on the right.
‘I think here at Chelsea we have more freedom to change position,’ he points out. ‘One time to go on the left and then to change to the right. Brazil was more static, I have to play more on the right and Neymar more on the left, so we cannot change positions. That is the difference.
‘I don’t have any problem at all to play on the left or on the right. I like to play in these two positions. I can play on the left and I can play on the right, it depends on the manager. If he says to me to play on the left I am going to play, and if he says to me to play on the right I am going to play. I don’t have problems.’
Should Willian decide he needs some advice on free-kick taking, he now has easy access to arguably Chelsea’s first truly world-class exponent of the art of scoring directly from them, Gianfranco Zola, and when it comes to worked free-kick routines, our no.22 has already shown his worth this season with his part in Marcos Alonso’s winner at Newcastle, when he delivered the ball for Olivier Giroud to nod back to the goalscorer.
‘I just practise my free-kicks and when we have the chance in the game I do the same kick that I did in the training and it is important to train well because you have some times the chance with a free-kick that can decide a game. Set-pieces are very important.
‘At Newcastle we practised this combination in the training and it worked in the game and that was nice. This is what the manager said to us to do, and we did well. It feels almost as good when you are part of a free-kick like that. Almost, but it is better when you score direct!’
Tactically, Willian does not see a huge change in his role under Maurizio Sarri, but he speaks about a different way of defending this season, a different profile of football with the manager wanting his team to play from the back, wanting to keep possession.
What is unaltered is Willian’s popularity with the fans and he is thankful for that support over the five years. He says he feels happy on the pitch when he hears his name being sung. One of those fans, one of the younger ones, asked the official Chelsea website to pass on a couple of questions to Willian and we were happy to do so. So Willian, have you ever had short hair, and are you still rare among footballers by having no tattoos?
‘Ah yes,’ he smiles. ‘When I started with Corinthians [back in Brazil], my hair was very short but when I was in Ukraine my hair grew up and I never cut, because it was very cold there, that is why! And yes, no tattoos, zero. I don’t like to do because some people say you feel pain and some people not, so I am scared!’
Away from the pitch and away from his personal appearance, Willian and David Luiz caused a bit of a stir (if you’ll excuse the pun), by opening a new restaurant earlier this year in London’s Mayfair. It’s called Babbo.
‘We are doing good there,’ he reports. ‘We’ve just started, it is a different life but it is a very good experience for me and David. It is Italian food, not Brazilian. I don’t know why to be honest,’ he smiles, ‘but Italian food is good and Zappa [Davide Zappacosta] has tried it when he went there and other players as well, they love the food.’
We could not let Willian’s five-year anniversary interview conclude without asking him to select his stand-out moment from that time. In the end the answer stretches to three.
‘When we were champions my first time, and the same year when I scored to beat Everton in the last minute. And when we were champions of the Premier League again two years ago.’
Willian, a serial title winner throughout his 11 years as a player in Europe, with plenty of reasons to be optimistic there is more to come.