Chelsea FC: Our Little Willian Might Be All Grown Up


After previously only showing glimpses of his true potential, Chelsea FC winger Willian may now be all grown up.

Being a fan of a young soccer player on the cusp of either greatness or mediocrity is a tenuous position to hold. Within you wells a near maternal protectiveness. You want him to succeed because you just know he will. The logic is clearly flawed – a line of thinking that usually ends in terrible heartbreak in most other relationships – but anyone pointing that out gets a stern talking to.

From real-life conversations to the comments section below any unflattering online mention, no-one messes with your boy. Such was my devotion to Willian, and damn if I’m not proud enough to start telling people his age in counts of months (328, by the way).

It began rather simply; Brazilian, with a fluffy afro, feet quick enough to perform card tricks, and blazing pace. If I could be reincarnated after a chat with God I’d ask for precisely that. Beyond my envy, however, I noticed a humble kid. Big-eyed and soft spoken in interviews, almost bashful yet still somehow unafraid. A delightful dichotomy of a human. My affinity for contrast combined with envy and, well, I’d stuff your grandfather’s dentures in the garbage disposal for disparaging Willian.

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The young Brazilian came to Chelsea FC from Shakhtar Donetsk in August of 2013 and all of his potential was on display nearly immediately. But potential is exhilerating at smaller clubs and worthless at the top; production is needed, and Willian was lacking. Adjusting to life in England and the pace and physicality of the Premier League can take even the most talented footballers a few months, or at least that’s what I said in his defense. Even I had to admit that many times last season things were looking rather stagnant.

Sure Willian still had the blinding pace and insanely quick feet, it just always looked as if he lacked ideas and decision making. The Brazilian with the foofy hair became a fixture under Mourinho, but was seemingly selected exclusively for his ability to cover swathes of ground while tracking back.

While his spacious lungs and incredible pace were needed and frequently called upon (particularly late in matches when others were tugging at their shorts) it seemed he was set – he was what he was. My Willian had plateaued.

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Still, I defended him vigorously. I couldn’t envision such skill and innocence wasted. Not because it never happens – it frequently does, especially in sport – but because if Chelsea FC were right and £30 million could eventually seem a bargain, not only would I too be right, but we’d have one hell of a weapon. One with the humility to pour out his soul but also the confidence to dance while doing it.

This Willian is the Willian I’ve been waiting for.

My heavens. Goals like that are made for Vine. The constant loops allow you to notice something different in each replay until the totality of the event is fully consumed. The initial sense that maximum danger could be inflicted; the near simultaneous burst forward; the pitter-patter steps to set his body shape; the optimism which never wanes, even as Oscar falls, face first, with all the grace of a toddler; the lightning snap of a leg; the fury transferred to the ball that was enough to beat a well-positioned keeper near post, who was awaiting precisely that shot.

Reading the game quick enough to harness the talent within lightning quick legs has always been the Sisyphean task of creative, pacy wingers – play fast, no, faster, now think fast too…no no no that’s too fast, now look the ball is thirty rows up. Look at former Blue André Shürrle, who in some flashes looked like a young German Freddie Ljungberg and others as tactically useful as a deflating balloon. Or even new Manchester United player Memphis Depay, whose inconsistency at PSV kept big clubs away for years before the Red Chevrolets nabbed him to placate fans nostalgic desires for a Ronaldo reunion.

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But that goal, more than his free kicks (which, really, where the hell did those come from?), encapsulate everything I’ve secretly known to be missing from Willian’s game. Standing over the ball, wiggling lightning quick ankles above it until it either grew roots or was taken away. If I’m honest, he did at times become infuriating to watch. Not only did the ball stop, but his teammates stopped, because he never seemed to have a plan.

That’s all changed. Willian seems to know, now, that he doesn’t need the pizazz of fellow country-mate Neymar to get by a defender. If he uses his speed first, many defenders will be lost even if they guess right. His assist to Diego Costa for the Blues’ third of the day against Crystal Palace and his cross that went by untouched but in a dangerous area solidified it; in addition to wicked free kicks, Willian’s added decisiveness and danger to his game…and Momma is so so proud.