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Jason

Willian

Started by Jason,

6,904 posts in this topic

Chelsea fans should remember Willian for much more than just jilting Tottenham

https://theathletic.com/1971348/2020/08/05/willian-chelsea-premier-league/

GettyImages-1211345681-scaled-e1596555579758-1024x682.jpg

It is May 12, 2017, and Willian is dancing to the Chelsea fans’ tune.

The club have just won their fifth Premier League title with a 1-0 victory away at West Bromwich Albion and those gathered in The Hawthorns’ away end are going through some of their favourite songs as the players celebrate in front of them.

After making an uncomplimentary reference to London rivals Spurs, the ditty continues “they bought his flight, but Willian he saw the light. He got the call from Abramovich and off he went to Stamford Bridge. He hates Tottenham, he hates Tottenham…”

With a big smile, Willian jumps from one foot to the other as he milks every word being sung in his honour. Few can remember such an outward display of emotion from the Brazilian winger.

There have been highs and lows for Willian throughout his seven years at Stamford Bridge but this one chant — composed soon after he arrived in August 2013 to commemorate Chelsea beating local rivals Spurs to his signature at the 11th hour — has provided the soundtrack to many a performance.

Ask Chelsea regulars about their favourite memory of Willian and many will go back to that very first day, when he chose west London over north.

It is looking more and more likely he will be making that trip in the opposite direction now, to sign for Arsenal as a free agent. Given Petr Cech made the same decision in the latter part of his career too, albeit in his case for a transfer fee of £10 million, the relationship with Chelsea supporters shouldn’t be negatively affected too much.

There have been far bigger characters who have worn the blue shirt during his time — while Eden Hazard was on the scene, it was difficult for anyone to get out of the Belgian’s shadow — but Willian’s connection to Chelsea runs deep. It goes beyond five major trophies, 343 appearances, 63 goals and 65 assists…

 

Jose Mourinho is in a mischievous mood. The press room at Cobham is packed as usual but there is a special buzz in the air. There are rumours that, despite Willian having a medical ahead of a move to Tottenham, he is joining Chelsea instead.

Struggling to keep the smirk off his face, Chelsea manager Mourinho says: “That is the danger of medicals before contracts. The best thing is to do the medical in secret.”

Willian’s move to Chelsea was two years in the making and it wasn’t just Spurs who were left disappointed. It is a measure of his performances for Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk, where he spent six seasons before six months at Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, that Liverpool were in the running too.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was employed to try to convince Willian that Anfield should be his next home. They had lost out on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who had joined Borussia Dortmund from Shakhtar, earlier that summer but were hoping the acquisition of the Brazilian would help their chances of keeping striker Luis Suarez for the foreseeable future.

Writing in his autobiography, Gerrard reveals: I followed the usual routine when approaching a star player we wanted to sign. Instead of calling him directly I always sent a text. It seemed more respectful and allowed the player to read my message at a time when it suited him best. A cold call felt wrong.

“I slipped into the groove with Willian. I said hello and hoped he didn’t mind me contacting him directly. I stressed how much I admired him as a player and then, having mentioned the fact that I knew Liverpool were speaking to his agent, I used the standard line: ‘If you need to chat or ask any questions I’m available at any time.’

“It was the opening move in a familiar game. The reply came in and the same old conversation started. Willian thanked me and he said the usual, along the lines of, ‘I’d love to play with you, Steven, blah-blah-blah, but there are other clubs I need to talk to as well.’

“I knew Spurs and Chelsea were also very keen on Willian. So I answered him and said, of course, I understood the situation. But I then went in with my sales pitch. ‘I think Liverpool would be a great move for you. The fans are amazing, the history is there and we’re building a good team. You could do something great here – and we’d love to have you.’

“The next text from Willian was so obvious I could have written it for him even before I read it. He again said that it would be great to play in the same team as me but, ‘I’m not sure Liverpool can give me the Champions League.’

“There was no disputing it. I could not guarantee Champions League football with Liverpool to Willian or any of the other dozens of players I had contacted over the years.”

How times change.

That honest appraisal of Liverpool’s situation looks very dated now after seeing them make the final of Europe’s premier club competition in 2018 and 2019, winning it on the second occasion. Meanwhile, Willian has got as far as its semi-final only once with Chelsea, and that was at the end of his debut season.

Willian, Luiz

Yet perhaps even with the benefit of hindsight, Willian may not have made a different decision. For he has come to enjoy life in London so much, he doesn’t want to leave. Earlier this year, he officially became a British citizen after passing the test all candidates have to go through, albeit at the third attempt. He lives with his wife Vanessa and their twin daughters Valentina and Manuella in a fancy Knightsbridge apartment that overlooks Hyde Park.

There have been offers made from clubs abroad, but the desire to remain in the English capital is always on his mind. It is where he wants the two girls to grow up.

As he told The Athletic earlier this season: “When we have days off, I try to enjoy them with my family. I go shopping, I have dinner, or go somewhere like Hyde Park and walk around. It’s special when the sun comes up. We love the city.”

Those close to him back in Brazil — he started playing from the age of four in Ribeirao Pires, just outside Sao Paulo — always thought Barcelona was the ultimate ambition. Compatriot Ronaldinho was his idol and the Nou Camp is his favourite stadium. 

However, despite being linked with the Catalan club many times, Willian’s connections with London have grown. He has set up a digital and branding company called WV Agency with his wife (the company taking its name from their initials). He also launched an online course here last summer to help future football professionals and was a co-owner of Babbo, an Italian restaurant in Mayfair, with former Chelsea (and possibly future Arsenal) team-mate David Luiz although sources say he has now pulled out of that venture.

There has certainly been no suggestions of any regret on his side about choosing London over Liverpool, nor Chelsea over Tottenham.

Chelsea made their first approach in summer 2011, then had a £16.5 million offer rejected by Shakhtar in the January 2012 transfer window.

Anzhi, who enjoyed a brief period of spending a fortune on players under owner Suleyman Kerimov in a bid to become a force on the European stage, succeeded with a £30 million offer 12 months later. But the ambitious experiment came to an abrupt end and their high profile players, including Willian, were put up for sale.

Tottenham may have thought they were favourites for his signature, but Willian has always downplayed it. He moved to Chelsea, quickly followed by another big-name Anzhi player in striker Samuel Eto’o, for £32 million.

As he told Brazilian paper Globo Esporte: “Things just happened. Chelsea came with an offer and everyone knows that I wanted to play for the club since I was at Shakhtar. It shook me, but I didn’t think twice. As both presidents (Kerimov and Abramovich) are friends, that helped too. It was a very easy negotiation. The Brazilians at Chelsea called me, especially David Luiz, who told me to come quickly. I was very happy to have them around. I wanted to play at Chelsea, even more so with Mourinho, who is the best at what he does.”

It was a surefire way to ingratiate himself with the fans from day one, but it would take a lot more than snubbing a move to an adversary to endear himself to his new colleagues.


“Playing behind Willian was a big pleasure,” former Chelsea right-back Branislav Ivanovic tells The Athletic. “I think I played the best football of my career with him on my flank. 

“He was one of the players who made me better, so I’ll always thank him for that. It’s very important to have a connection between the players on the flanks and we had a fantastic one. When he arrived, he spoke a bit of Russian (Ivanovic joined Chelsea after 18 months with Lokomotiv Moscow), so we found a connection straight away.”

While Willian’s contribution went under the radar outside the Chelsea FC bubble most weeks and even became a divisive topic among those that followed the club, his stature with those in the dressing room always remained high.

Ivanovic was an important player to please. Not only was he a regular in the starting line-up, the Serb also had a significant voice within the club because he was on good terms with the hierarchy. You will be hard-pressed to find anybody who has a bad word to say about Willian anyway, though. He has never been the loudest voice in the camp, but he has won people over with what he can do with the ball at his feet.

“He is not the type of player that talks too much,” current Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger says. “He leads more by what he does on the pitch, when he does his thing. He is like Hazard in this respect — by playing the way they do, they show what they are. He is a guy that dictates the game. There are not many players in the world that have the type of quality he has. He was always training afterwards, practising free kicks and shooting. He always wants to improve.”

Due to his speed when in possession, Willian has been affectionately likened to a “PlayStation player” at the club’s training base, as if he is being controlled by someone playing the FIFA video game. 

willian-dribble-scaled.jpg

For the majority of his spell at Chelsea, he gravitated towards their Portuguese-speaking fraternity. There were players such as Oscar, Filipe Luis, Ramires and Diego Costa, as well as Luiz, to converse with about life back in Brazil.

But he still committed to learning English and has become more of an influence the older he has got. Brazilian-born Italians Jorginho and Emerson are there now to help keep his Portuguese up to scratch, but observers have noticed how much he has embraced having more responsibility as a leader.

“Since I came to Chelsea, I have been close to him from day one,” Rudiger explains to The Athletic. “It was him and Luiz who got me into the team and helped me out in the first couple of months, when it was not that easy. He was one of the ones that helped me.

“He is a great guy and a really, really good footballer. He is a calm and humble guy. It will be sad if I do not see him again as a team-mate.”

Robert Green spent only one year in Willian’s company, Maurizio Sarri’s sole 2018-19 season as manager, but the former England international got to appreciate him in a different way perhaps to other players because, as the third-choice goalkeeper, he was watching every week from the dugout or the stands. Sitting there also made him aware of the moans and groans from the sections of the crowd who grew frustrated at what they were seeing from Willian.

“He does a lot in the game, not just goals and assists, and I think it goes unnoticed. He is incredibly talented, but he is someone who always left you expecting more,” Green says. “I can see why people have been frustrated, but then I think people expect too much in general. To be consistent as an attacking player is different to a centre-half. There are only a few forward players in world football that can deliver every match.

“Before matches, he is always very relaxed, very chilled. I think that’s why he divides fans. Because he is so laid-back, it comes across like he doesn’t care. If he screamed and shouted, I don’t think the same questions would be asked.

“I never saw him angry. I’ve seen him upset, disappointed, but he wasn’t vocal. He is just a laid-back guy. When he spoke, he was very nice and was always smiling. But he wasn’t one to have deep and meaningful chats with.

“I think he has stepped up at Chelsea this season. With the younger players coming through, it has made his role as a senior member of the squad even more significant.”

Naturally, there have been occasions when Willian hasn’t always been calm or full of cheer. The loss of his mother, Donna Zee, at the age of 57 in October 2016 hit him hard, so much so he lost 4kg from the stress of it all.

The club granted Willian compassionate leave to return to Brazil to grieve. Notably, all his team-mates wore black armbands in support of him during a game against Leicester City. When Costa scored the match’s opening goal, he made a ‘W’ sign with his fingers, shown below. After Hazard found the net to make it 2-0, he held up two fingers on each hand to pay homage to Willian’s shirt number (No 22).

Costa, Willian

Willian enjoyed a positive relationship with all his managers apart from Antonio Conte, who started him in just 35 of 76 Premier League games across 2016-2018. Things went particularly sour in Conte’s second season. An indication of the falling-out came after what turned out to be the Italian’s last game in charge, a win over Manchester United in the FA Cup final. Willian posted a group photo on his Instagram page, but the manager couldn’t be seen because trophy emojis had been put over the top. A rather unconvincing explanation was given: one of Willian’s daughters had picked up his phone and started playing with it.

In truth, there had been problems since the summer 2017 pre-season tour. Sources have explained how it all began when the team were in China and Conte caught Willian’s fellow Brazilian Kenedy yawning during a team meeting. He berated the wing-back in front of the entire squad and Luiz stood up to defend his countryman. That led to issues between Conte and Luiz, who ended up playing only 17 times for the club in all competitions that season. Willian, as a close friend of the centre-back, was dragged into the internal politics and seemingly guilty by association.

Conte was very much the exception though. Mourinho loved Willian, which is why he tried to sign him when manager of Manchester United and again since he took over at Tottenham last November. After the disappointment of Chelsea’s loss to Atletico Madrid in the 2013-14 Champions League semi-finals, Mourinho singled out Willian’s work-rate for praise and said his was the example Hazard needed to follow.

A few days later, as Chelsea were losing ground in the title race, he highlighted Willian again. He said: “I have Dr Paco Biosca, the doctor at Shakhtar Donetsk for many years with Willian, and he says he doesn’t recognise Willian now: the professional, the player, the commitment. The only thing he recognises is the talent. He’s improved. But you can’t succeed with everybody.”

Willian ended up being voted by fans as their Player of the Year for 2015-16, which was Mourinho’s and Chelsea’s worst season under Abramovich. They went into it as defending champions but finished a lowly 10th, Mourinho was fired in the December with Chelsea a point above the relegation places and talents such as Hazard, Oscar, Costa and Cesc Fabregas were accused of downing tools.

One of the few to be consistent throughout was Willian, with 11 goals and 10 assists across all competitions. It prompted defender Gary Cahill to say: “Willian, from the time I’ve played with him, has improved month after month, season after season. This season, for sure, has been his strongest in a Chelsea shirt. He’s been the standout performer this year. Very exciting for the fans to come and watch, and for us to give him the ball and let him do his stuff. On his day, he’s a very special player.”

On taking charge last summer, Frank Lampard opted to get rid of Luiz but made Willian, another former team-mate from his own Chelsea playing days, a mainstay of his team. Lampard urged the board to agree a short-term contract for Willian to see out the season after it was prolonged due to COVID-19 and also to give him a new longer extension to keep him at Stamford Bridge.

Lampard only got to play with Willian in his last year at Chelsea but has clearly come to respect what the Brazilian offers even more since becoming his coach.

Speaking last November, Lampard said: “On the ball, we all know his ability. But his off-the-ball work is an outstanding example for Callum Hudson-Odoi, for Christian Pulisic, for other young players who think the only part of the game is going by people, crossing or shooting. He does the other side brilliantly, with absolute humility.”

There have been suggestions from pundits that Willian has saved his best until last, and 2019-20 has been his finest season at Chelsea.

The return of 11 goals and nine assists is good, but perhaps it is a testament to the former Corinthians trainee’s character that his highest figures for a Chelsea season — 13 goals, 12 assists — came in the one where he was under most duress, that second year under Conte in 2017-18.

It comes as no surprise to Ivanovic. “Mentally, Willian is a winner,” he says. “He always wants to win and to be competitive with the other guys, so he sets a very good example. But his best quality is how easy he is with the ball. 

“He’s so calm and enjoys life with his family. He showed us how we could enjoy life and play football on that top level — he’s probably one of those guys who never feels pressure. 

“If you tried to count how many times he lost the ball, you wouldn’t get to 10. He’s very strong with the ball. Whenever I think about him, I have his smile in my head.”

Chelsea’s fans may frown at the possibility of Willian wearing the shirt of a direct Premier League rival when the new season starts next month but whatever happens, he has given them plenty to grin about.

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6 hours ago, DDA said:

Have you forgotten just how bad Willian has been in a Chelsea shirt over the years?? He's had a half decent season this year and a handful of games where he turned Prime Ronaldinho beforehand. All that playing in a far weaker Chelsea than Kalou. Put the broccoli headed fraud in the same Chelsea as Kalou snd he would have looked even worse. 

Firstly, I need to remind people that I was calling for a Willian upgrade within months of his arrival. I'm aware of his shortcomings but I really don't like the level of vitriol being thrown at a Chelsea player.

We can't ever factually settle the Kalou or Willian question, but I can tell you that were I given the opportunity, I would never select Salou over Willian. It's clear you don't agree but bear in mind please what I told you above. I'm not blinkered to Willian's output, or lack of it but, even so, I take him over Saloman every single time.

P.S. Take this for what it's worth but, every time Salou was looking to renegotiate his deal there were rumours of interest, and a mega millions offer, from Arsenal. I always poo-pooed that claim because I never believed that Wenger would be interested. Sure enough, when Salomon became available on a free, there was not a peep of interest from Arsenal. Compare that with Willian's situation now. Remember too that when Salou left Chelsea he was in his prime, unlike Willian now.

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3 hours ago, Tomo said:

Part of the assesment of fullbacks are what they offer going forward so why can't that work both ways?

I do not think it is the same. When clubs look to sign winger they look at what they offer offensively. Hazard, Neymar may not even bother to track back and no one cares.

It is a plus of course but I do not think after scouting teams decide not to sign wingers because they suck defensively. After all, the difference between best and worst is like what 2 goals per season where wingers are at fault?

 

 

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6 hours ago, Sir Mikel OBE said:

Kalou was trashed about the same as Willian is though.

 

Theres a reason Willian plays when he is fit more often than not

Theres a reason he played for Brazil

Theres a reason he was sought after by Barcelona.

Theres a reason hes loved by all his teammates.

 

He plays a consistent role. Does he put up insane attacking stats? no, but playing next to creative players he provides a hardworking counterbalance that makes the side better.

I need more evidence before I believe the Barcelona story, though I accept I'm out on my own there. I agree with everything else you say though.

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On 8/4/2020 at 11:35 PM, MoroccanBlue said:

Coutinho's best spell as a professional footballer came when he was trying to get Liverpool back into the Top 4. Willian, as much as we shit on him, will give Arsenal much needed experience and depth. 

Like I said, we are laughing now, but I will genuinely be concerned if Arsenal line up like this next season. 

Leno

Soares----Saliba---Gabriel--Tierney

Xhaka---Partey

Coutinho

Pepe--------------------Willian

Aubameyang 

 

 

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Matt Law with the latest on Willian...

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2020/08/05/arsenal-press-willian-negotiations-despite-staff-redundancies/

Arsenal are set to press ahead with their move to sign Willian, despite announcing that 55 members of the club’s staff are to be made redundant.

Willian is believed to be close to accepting an offer of a three-year contract, with the option of a further 12 months, and leaving Chelsea after seven years at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea and head coach Frank Lampard are still waiting to be told of Willian’s decision and have not fully given up on him staying, but the Blues will not alter their offer which is understood to be for a two-year extension.

Arsenal’s proposal is a lower base salary to what is on offer from Chelsea, but it will include lucrative bonuses on appearances and success.

The fact it would be at least a year longer also means that Willian would stand to earn more in total by moving across London.

Willian missed the FA Cup final with an injury, but was spotted chatting to Arsenal players Cedric Soares, with whom he shares an agent, and Gabriel Martinelli in the Wembley stands.

It remains to be seen whether or not Willian will be fit for Chelsea’s Champions League game against Bayern Munich on Saturday night, which the Brazilian is eligible to play in.

There is also the potential question mark over whether the 31-year-old will want to face Bayern and risk suffering another injury after seeing Pedro Rodriguez damage his shoulder during his final appearance for the Blues.

Pedro required surgery on his shoulder injury and Willian may be reluctant to put himself at risk ahead of such a big decision over his future.

Arsenal’s bid to sign Willian will no doubt attract criticism at a time when they have just announced 55 redundancies due to the impact of the coronavirus.

Whether or not that delays the completion of the move or any announcement remains to be seen, but sources close to Arsenal were on Wednesday insistent the deal was still being pursued.

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21 minutes ago, Jason said:

Arsenal are basically offering Willian a 4-year-deal. JFC! How desperate are they!?

If it's a club option, there's zero risk for them on the fourth year. If he's good enough three years from now for them to want to activate it, he has earned it.

But if it's some appearance-related clause for an additional year, they're fucked. That way if his level goes down, they are effectively forced to do a Mesut Özil on him and freeze him out to prevent the option from being triggered while still having to pay him a big wage.

Either way, 3 years is already too much. He'll be 35 by the time the contract is done and for a winger who's quite heavily reliant on pace and high work rate I can't see him age that well going closer to his mid 30s. 

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I really don't care what Arse do or who they sign. They won't get anywhere near challenging for the title and in my opinion they won't be near the top 4 either. They're soft and will be typical Arse next season. Brilliant one match, shocking the next. A couple of good months followed by an inevitable collapse.

Theyll be one long term injury to Auba away from being a midtable side.

As for Willian, it'll be sad to see him going there at first but I'll get over it quickly. Can't blame the club for not offering him 4 years (holy shit!) and can't blame Willian from taking it. He seemed like one of the Chelsea players who loved talking shit to Spuds & Arse fans most so it sucks that he's joining one of them.

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26 minutes ago, Jype said:

If it's a club option, there's zero risk for them on the fourth year. If he's good enough three years from now for them to want to activate it, he has earned it.

But if it's some appearance-related clause for an additional year, they're fucked. That way if his level goes down, they are effectively forced to do a Mesut Özil on him and freeze him out to prevent the option from being triggered while still having to pay him a big wage.

Either way, 3 years is already too much. He'll be 35 by the time the contract is done and for a winger who's quite heavily reliant on pace and high work rate I can't see him age that well going closer to his mid 30s. 

Yes but are they really that desperate to offer another year as option on top of what is already a silly long term deal for a 32-year-old? 

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7 minutes ago, Jason said:

Yes but are they really that desperate to offer another year as option on top of what is already a silly long term deal for a 32-year-old? 

It's not desperate if it's a club option. There's literally no risk for them that way, if anything it's better for them because if he's a big success and keeps his level going near the end of the contract they could just activate it and keep him for another year or if they're planning to sell him in two years they might even be able to get a small fee with the contract length being effectively two years due to the option (even without actually activating it).

But like I said if it's some performance related option or if Willian himself has any say in whether to activate it or not, Arsenal have been totally duped.

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9 minutes ago, Jype said:

It's not desperate if it's a club option. There's literally no risk for them that way, if anything it's better for them because if he's a big success and keeps his level going near the end of the contract they could just activate it and keep him for another year or if they're planning to sell him two years from now they might be able to get a fee with the contract length being effectively two years due to the option (even without actually activating it).

But like I said if it's some performance related option or if Willian himself has any say in whether to activate it or not, Arsenal have been totally duped.

I know, I know but unless Arsenal have a crystal ball to look into the future and know he will still be good 2-3 years from now, giving the 3+1 deal is dumb. If Willian goes downhill from here, they are gonna have problems selling him because no other sane club in Europe will want to buy him and can afford his wages, unless Willian decides to take a pay cut. Based on what you said there, the additional year could then present a problem in the remaining length of the contract. It's almost as if Arsenal are not taking the signal that we aren't offering him more than 2 years.

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19 minutes ago, Jason said:

I know, I know but unless Arsenal have a crystal ball to look into the future and know he will still be good 2-3 years from now, giving the 3+1 deal is dumb. If Willian goes downhill from here, they are gonna have problems selling him because no other sane club in Europe will want to buy him and can afford his wages, unless Willian decides to take a pay cut. Based on what you said there, the additional year could then present a problem in the remaining length of the contract. It's almost as if Arsenal are not taking the signal that we aren't offering him more than 2 years.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Willian in a good shape in 3 years time. Great athlete and seem very disciplined. Family man, healthy food, good sleep etc.. Players like him can play at a very good level until they're 35. Obviously nothing is guaranteed but if I had to give a 31 yo player a 3 year contract he would be on my list. It's a decent signing for Arsenal IMO. He's a short term option but they would be able to bring in someone else in a different position. Or knowing Arsenal it's possible this is the only way they could've signed anyone at all. Free or on loan.

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Celebrate Willian’s career for Chelsea. He was a great player and a joy to watch. But everyone is free to enter into the contracts they choose to enter into (or not). Chelsea has better options at both wings now, so it makes sense for Willian to move on if he insists on a longer contract. If Arse are willing to offer him 4 years, we should just thank our lucky stars that we are not in that position.

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4 hours ago, Jason said:

I know, I know but unless Arsenal have a crystal ball to look into the future and know he will still be good 2-3 years from now, giving the 3+1 deal is dumb. If Willian goes downhill from here, they are gonna have problems selling him because no other sane club in Europe will want to buy him and can afford his wages, unless Willian decides to take a pay cut. Based on what you said there, the additional year could then present a problem in the remaining length of the contract. It's almost as if Arsenal are not taking the signal that we aren't offering him more than 2 years.

China league will always open the door for Old player from europe....with the more wages offcourse....lol

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7 hours ago, Rapkun said:

I wouldn't be surprised to see Willian in a good shape in 3 years time. Great athlete and seem very disciplined. Family man, healthy food, good sleep etc.. Players like him can play at a very good level until they're 35. Obviously nothing is guaranteed but if I had to give a 31 yo player a 3 year contract he would be on my list. It's a decent signing for Arsenal IMO. He's a short term option but they would be able to bring in someone else in a different position. Or knowing Arsenal it's possible this is the only way they could've signed anyone at all. Free or on loan.

The problem with Willian is his main strengths, as Jype pointed out above, are his pace and workrate. Are those physical attributes still gonna be there in 2-3 years? Unlikely. He might still be decent but unlikely able to play at the highest level anymore. Plus, it is not like he has the creativity, vision or technical ability a la David Silva, for example, to compensate for that.

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