With the news of Willian’s departure, I am attempting to evaluate his 7 year stay here, which, for a player who has often divided opinion, is not all that easy.
Firstly, I would say that Willian has taken some unfair stick from certain Chelsea fans, largely online, but sometimes too in the ground(s). You can certainly never question his work rate or commitment (until recently) and he has more than played his part in a hugely successful spell for the club. Two league titles, the fa and league cups and lastly, the Europa league, are no mean feat, whilst consistently getting picked by Mourinho, Hiddink, Conte (less so), Sarri and now Lampard, speaks volumes. For all the keyboard warriors out there, who think they know best; to you I ask, “why have that illustrious list of managers continued to pick him so regularly?” They can’t ALL be wrong.
So, why is there a slight cloud or question mark when the name Willian is under discussion? There is one obvious area that doesn’t stand up well under examination. The numbers. Personally, I am not a fan of using statistics alone to judge a player’s contribution, but it is worth examining.
I was at Stamford Bridge in 2012 when Willian scored twice for Shaktar in the CL, and I was also at Carrow Road, a year later, when he came off the bench to score a quite brilliant left footed curler to secure a 3-1 away win on his debut. He looked the complete package.
For the purpose of this article, I am looking purely at league goal contributions, as cup goals can be distorted by matches against far inferior opponents. That goal at Norwich was somewhat a false dawn. 4 league goals all season, followed by just 2 the year after seems astonishing for a forward player in a title winning team. But, we won the league, so who cares, right?
The trouble with that is when results are poor, the contribution of such players comes under greater scrutiny . Liverpool won the league this season, and their centre forward got 9 goals. Big deal. If they’d had come 2nd, I am certain Firmino’s goal contribution would have been a point for discussion.
Year after year, Willian has failed to reach double figures in league goals. This season was a career high, 9, but that was massaged upwards with 4 penalties and a free kick, almost all since the restart. For a team that has finished 4th, he has scored 4 league goals in open play, which is somewhat par for him. If we look at his entire Chelsea career, we are looking at a goal every 405 minutes. Digging further, it is also an assist every 454 minutes. Neither makes impressive reading.
This is where his critics start to get excited. Compare those numbers to Sterling, Hazard, Ronaldo, Robben, Messi, Salah, Mane, etc. Fair point. What do those players all have in common? They ALL play(ed) as inverted wingers. Left footers on the right, right footers on the left. This may seem like I am being over protective in his defense, but it is so much easier for a forward to shoot, when they can cut in from the opposite side. Opening goal at Spurs this year leaps to mind.
Unfortunately for Willian, Hazard rather hogged that left wing spot for 6 of his 7 years here, and I can only think of Mata who was alternative left footed winger at our disposal, and he departed just 6 months’ into Willian’s career here. These things have consigned Willian exclusively to the right, where, as mentioned above, it is not as easy to get big goal contributions from.
Moving into the here and now, contract talks have reached impasse. With the impending arrival of Werner, Ziyech and probably Havertz, Willian’s place in the side now has some real competition, and if the rumours are true, I fully back the club’s decision not to cave into his demands for a 3-year contract. For a player who turns 32 this month, this would go massively against previous club policy, and I certainly don’t think he is indispensable enough for Marina to rip up the rule book, especially given the new arrivals for 2020/21.
If it was simply a case of stay or go, I was firmly on the side of “stay”. Like a lot of things in life, it wasn’t quite that simple and perhaps the deal makes more sense for Arsenal than Chelsea. They pick up a player who wasn’t theirs for no transfer fee, which offsets the longer contract and wages in comparison to having to buy a player. For Chelsea, it is time to move on, and he goes with my blessing. We will always have that song.