Willian has outlasted five Chelsea managers and just as many, if not more, challengers for his starting spot on the right wing since signing from Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer of 2013.
His performances haven’t always been universally lauded, but every coach, from peak pragmatic José Mourinho to Maurizio Sarri, idealistic to a fault, had found a key role for the Man Who Saw The Light, suggesting that there is more to him than what actually meets the eye. Some players are of immense tactical importance despite having mediocre end-product. Willian has proved to be precisely that in his 300 appearances for the club, a mark hit last week against Southampton.
“I always believed I could play so many games. I had to believe. It’s difficult to achieve this number, especially when you play for a big club like Chelsea because there are many, many players that are fighting for the same position. It was a challenge for me.
“In football you have to prove yourself every day, in every game. When you stop doing that you have to stop playing. You have to prove it to yourself as well. I have done that. I have been here already for six years, I have had different managers, different players in the squad, and I was proving every training session, every game, that I can play many, many years for this club.
“I think I have improved a lot. Every game you can learn from. Then after every game you ask yourself ‘What have I done well, what have I not done well?’ I always want to continue improving. Now I’m very proud to reach this number, and I hope for 300 more to come!”
Willian’s Chelsea career has been filled with extraordinary success and a multitude of trophies, but none of that mattered back in October 2016, when his mother passed away. Those months were the toughest, affecting his play, his mentality, and even his physical fitness for a long time after.
After starting the vast majority of games under José Mourinho, whom Willian describes as a pivotal figure in his Chelsea career, he lost his place to Pedro in Chelsea’s title-winning campaign under Antonio Conte. Willian was still a potent option off the bench, setting a new career high in goals scored in fact with 12, a total he’d actually better the following season, even.
The wounds eventually healed, thanks to strong support from the club, his teammates, and of course, his friends and family.
“That period was very hard for me. It was one of the toughest times for me and my family. Not only after my Mum passed away but before as well: she had treatment, she was fighting, and maybe many people didn’t know about that. They only realised after she passed away.
“It was tough for me because I couldn’t concentrate well on my work. I would go on the pitch but my head was elsewhere. I lost weight without doing anything. Mentally I had a really tough time, but my family and friends gave me a lot of support, and the people here helped me. It was very nice from them.”
Now in his seventh season at Stamford Bridge, Willian has been an important part of many memorable games. Two that he mentions specifically in his interview with Chelsea official are both from Mourinho’s reign: Chelsea’s dramatic 2-0 victory against PSG, on the late Demba Ba goal, after losing the first leg in Paris, 3-1; and the last minute deflected winner he scored against Everton in mid-February to keep Chelsea’s title challenge on track.
Overall, Willian is proud to look on his time at Chelsea with the utmost affection that dates back to well before he even joined the club.
“I have to be proud of that. To achieve this number for this club is unbelievable. It was my dream to come to play for Chelsea. Always I wanted to play for this club.
“I had this affection with this club since they made an offer for me when I was at Shakhtar. I started watching the games and supporting this team. I loved the name, ‘Chelsea’. The colour blue. And then I had the chance to play at Stamford Bridge for Shakhtar.
“When I stop playing, my name will be there. No-one can cross it off. I feel proud of that.”
-Willian; source: Chelsea FC
And of course he’s not done yet. Now the proud owner of the No.10 shirt, in true Willian fashion, he has managed to carve out a key starting role for himself even as Chelsea have fully embraced the youth. Over the past month in fact, he’s been the best player for the head coach!
May the good form and times continue!