One of the very few highlights of Chelsea's pitiful 2015-16 season, reigning Chelsea Player of the Year, Willian sat down recently with Globo Esporte’s Ivan Raupp for an extensive interview covering all manner of topics, from the footballing kind to the deeply personal.
Let’s start with the former, wherein Willian doles out plenty of praise for Antonio Conte and the rest of his Chelsea teammates who are currently leading the Premier League table by nine points.
"I think it is the work that we have been doing day by day in our training sessions. All of us know how hard the beginning of the championship was with our inconsistency, until we found our groove and got a great winning streak. Also, [Antonio] Conte has done an excellent job"
"It has to be noted that Chelsea today have not only 11 starting players, but rather 14 or 15 players that fight for a position in the line-up. And when [Conte] makes changes to the team, we still get results."
"[Conte's] work every day [makes a difference]. Every trainer, since my beginning at Chelsea, did a great job. [José] Mourinho did a great job, we managed to win titles with him. After him Guus Hiddink took over and did a good job as well, we had 13 or 14 games without recording a loss."
"Now with Conte we had a rough start but we found ourselves on the pitch. He is an instrumental piece for us as a coach, guiding and helping all the players. But the players' work need to be highlighted as well, as we managed to understand his work ethos, taking his ideas to the pitch and managing to do great work with them."
One of these ideas has been to switch a three-man backline, a tactical shift that’s starting to make an impact beyond just Chelsea as well, with almost half the league lining up in similar starting formation these days. The defensive reorganization and solidity has had a positive effect on the team’s attacking play as well.
"The players upfront have more freedom in a scheme with three centre backs and two wing backs, so we have more freedom to roam and play a bit more loosely. Nowadays every player is essential in football, especially without the ball and helping with marking."
"So the attackers, especially the ones occupying the flanks, don't have to track back every time with the opponent's full back because in the tactics we are playing, our wing backs are the ones marking the full backs. I think this is important and the team fitted really well in this tactical shape."
While Willian had been a constant presence in our starting line-ups since his arrival at Chelsea back in summer 2013, this has not been the case as much this season. With former Barcelona winger Pedro taking over starting duties, Willian has been relegated to a rotational role instead. Still, he will continu to put his best effort forward whenever he gets a chance to be on the pitch.
"It is more or less this way. Of course, no football player likes to start a match on the bench. To be honest, neither do I. I like to always be on the pitch. But obviously we have to respect the manager's decision and your teammate who is currently playing."
"And when the opportunity comes, you have to do your best. This is what I am doing, respecting my manager's decision and when I get on the pitch, I look to do my best to help Chelsea."
Admirable attitude, though nothing less than we would expect from Willian.
Willian also opens up about how he coped, physically and mentally, when his mother lost her battle against cancer. He’s not talked all that much about this event and aspect of his life up to this point.
"I had a problem, everyone knows how difficult it was and my mom's health really affected me mentally and physically. She was in the hospital for two months and passed away, so it was a really hard moment."
"I tried not to take these issues to the pitch but I could not do it. It ended up affecting me, I lost weight... Of course I will always miss my mother. And the memories she left behind... The pain goes away, but I will always miss her. Today I feel much better mentally and physically."
"I lost 4 kg after my mother's death, so it was a bit harder to come back. [My weight loss] left me quite worried since it greatly affected me. Mentally I had a really tough time as well but thanks to God, my family and my friends, I feel much better. And I recovered my weight."
"But anyways, now I feel much better. And I want to continue on this run of form until the end of the season and continue to evolve."
Speaking of feeling better, Willian reveals a few interesting tidbits about the relationship between Conte and Costa, one that has seen it’s fair share of drama already despite the team doing so well in the league. As Willian sees it, between Conte and Diego continues to be quite peaceful despite their temperament.
"[Their relationship] is very peaceful. Their temperament is a bit harsh but they are good people. For someone who does not know him, Diego Costa looks like a tough guy who always wants to fight. But this is only on the pitch. He is always telling us: 'Inside the pitch I am this way, I can not change. If I had to play against my mother, I would do the same things!'."
"So he is a guy who is always trying to win and fight for every ball. He wants to score goal, and I like that. Off the pitch he is someone who is always joking and talking with us. There are no issues between [Conte and Diego]."
Costa is constantly linked with moves away from Chelsea, while both Ramires and Oscar have recently left the club in search of the new Chinese Super League gold rush. But while the moneys on offer might be tempting, Willian is more than happy to stay in London where he feels settled.
And that goes for you, too, Jose Mourinho and Manchester United!
"Concrete [offers], I have no idea. But Manchester United were interested in me, since Mourinho is there now. Other clubs I am not aware, but there is always something on the internet. In any case I am happy that there are clubs who admire my work."
As far as Oscar and his own future, Willian’s not one to reveal too much insider information.
"It is hard to judge since it is a very personal decision. Many people condemn the players that go to China but only ourselves as players know how hard life in football really is. Life is football is fleeting and very quick. So when you take this decision, we are thinking on our future, and the future of our children and relatives."
"I will not say whether or not I would move. What I can say is that I am very happy at Chelsea; I feel at home there. It is practically my home since I will complete four years there. I have the affection of everyone in the club, I am quite adapted to the city, my family loves to live in London... [Moving to China] would be a hard task, so if I were to do so it I would need to think and take the decision alongside my family."
At age 28, Willian still has a few years left in the tank to play for a top European club, Interestingly, unlike many of his fellow countrymen, he’s not considering a return to Brazil either at the moment.
"Many people ask me that, and as the days go by I ponder on whether or not returning and finishing my career to Brazil is really worth it. Today I think it would be best for me not to go back and finish my career abroad, not only for me but for the sake of my family. But I am not sure if this could change."
-Willian; Source: Globo Esporte
Be sure to read the rest of the interview (Google Translate works well) where Willian also talks about great friendships with the likes of Neymar and David Luiz, and the direction the national team’s headed in with new coach Tite going strong in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.