Friday 23 March 2018

Chelsea's ray of hope Willian keeps smiling during a season of pain

Chelsea's Willian in action at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday Photo: PA
Chelsea's Willian in action at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday Photo: PA

Jason Burt

Willian considers Chelsea's season so far. "There's a passage in the Bible that says man doesn't live just from bread," he says. "So you don't live just from winning, you have to understand about losing as well. You can then better yourself to win."

It has been a difficult campaign. A campaign full of frustration and questions, many still unanswered, as to how Chelsea have gone from champions to strugglers. A campaign that, Willian himself admits, leaves him stunned when he looks at the Premier League table and sees Chelsea 14th, just six points above the relegation zone and 12 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.

"Without any doubt," he says when asked if he is shocked by the position. "There's no explanation but as players we know we made mistakes at the beginning of the season and this is why we are in the position we are in today."

Willian is serious. Sitting at Chelsea's training ground ahead of today's Premier League fixture at home to Everton, the Brazilian thinks deeply about each answer. He understands English, and can converse in the language, but is still more comfortable using a Portuguese interpreter for an interview. He listens intently, also, as she translates his answers before proceeding.

With his shock of hair and mega-watt smile Willian normally rivals Jurgen Klopp when it comes to his unmistakable, cheerful appearance - and the smile is still often in evidence during this interview - but he admits it has been difficult, at times, in recent months.

"It is hard to keep positive when everything is happening but this is part of football," he says. "You lose one game, you know you have the next. You have to keep moving forward, stay positive so you can do better. But we do know that our situation is not a comfortable one. We know that we need to make more wins to go up the table."

Then, of course, comes the irony. While Chelsea have struggled desperately this season, Willian has not. The 27-year-old's third campaign in the Premier League since securing his £30million "dream" move from Shakhtar Donetsk, when Jose Mourinho whisked him from under the noses of Spurs at the 11th hour, has been his most impressive in English football and, he considers, his best. So how does it feel that this has coincided with Chelsea's worst campaign in the Roman Abramovich era?

"I think it is difficult to explain and make that comparison," Willian says. "But since I arrived in Chelsea the first year I started here I was at one level, then I went up to another level and now I am getting here (raises his hand higher). Independently of what the team is doing I always try to do my best and do everything to give the best that I can give."

His effort, most emphatically, cannot be faulted. Some at Cobham liken him to a PlayStation player - and one with the sprint button stuck down because of his speed and perpetual motion and fierce, innate work ethic. Again Willian laughs: "It is the way that I play, my style of playing and I won't ever change the way I play."

That style - for Willian Borges da Silva, to give him his full name - began to develop at the giant Sao Paulo club Corinthians, whom he joined aged nine.

From there he took the brave step, aged just 19, to move to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, where he enjoyed huge success in an attacking, technically-gifted side who won a string of titles including the Uefa Cup in 2009.

And from there he was sold - again for £30m - to the Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, who were being bankrolled by the billionaire Suleyman Kerimov (who later withdrew his funding) and coached by Guus Hiddink, who was to eventually resign as the team were broken up.

The route to Chelsea, therefore, was not an easy one for Willian and despite his understandable seriousness during this interview, Willian is enjoying his football. It is a trait, he says, all his countrymen share.

"I don't know how to make that comparison but Brazilians they like to be happy when they play," he explains. "I go on to the field to enjoy football, to make everybody happy. I think that to play happy is the main thing." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Chelsea v Everton, Live, Setanta 1, 3.00pm


Falcao can go - Hiddink

Chelsea's interim manager Guus Hiddink admits on-loan striker Radamel Falcao can leave and seek opportunities to play after his parent club Monaco opted against recalling him due to injury.

"For him it's important to play," Hiddink said. "If you see his recent path here and also at Man United, not playing, that's difficult for a player. He must look for circumstances where he can play."

Elsewhere, Manchester City have agreed to sign Australian midfielder Anthony Caceres from Central Coast Mariners.

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