Chelsea haven’t had much to celebrate this season, even after ending Tottenham’s Premier League title bid. But there’s at least one figure around Cobham who has reasons not to cry about the past few months.
Ask anyone – there’s no doubt Willian has dethroned Eden Hazard as the Stamford Bridge side’s best player after his outstanding recent form. “His feet worked like hands,” interim coach Guus Hiddink noted in February.
The Brazilian ace was Chelsea’s best player under Jose Mourinho before the Portuguese's sacking in December, and although his fellow colleagues have picked up under Hiddink, Willian has remained their most consistent player.
Scoring 11 goals and chipping in with 10 assists wasn’t enough for him – he also impressed everyone with his outstanding record from free-kicks in the Blues’ Champions League campaign, after netting four times. But he’s still not content.
“All I want is to forget about this season,” Willian tells FFT. “I must confess it hasn’t been easy for us. We didn’t start well and ended up paying the price for this in the Premier League. We tried to put things right but we weren’t able to and we’re already thinking about the next season.”
Chelsea fell apart under Mourinho. The Special One was sacked with his team sitting only a point above the relegation zone. Following his dismissal, technical director Michael Emenalo claimed that a "palpable discord" between the manager and his stars had emerged, and forced the club hierarchy's hand.
Nevertheless, Willian believes that his team-mates would have somehow rediscovered their form despite losing nine of the opening 16 games.
“I don’t think Mourinho is the only one to blame for this,” he explains. “I heard some talk about our atmosphere but every coach has a different way of working inside the dressing room. Some players accept it, others don’t – it depends on every person. That’s normal.
“But I’m sure he wasn’t the main [person] responsible for our bad start considering we had come from an amazing season with him, when we won the Premier League and also the League Cup.
“When the results don’t come, everyone should take responsibility. We would never leave Mourinho with everyone pointing fingers at him. Not just because it’s him – we would do the same if it were anyone else.”
For the Foxes
Willian wasn’t surprised at all with Leicester lifting the Premier League trophy and thinks that Chelsea can learn from it ahead of next season.
“Football is football,” he says. “It shows that money alone doesn’t win games. Leicester finishing as champions was obviously a surprise for most people but they deserved it.”
The 27-year-old midfielder clearly felt Spurs weren’t going to beat Leicester in the title battle. He was caught on camera gesturing to Tottenham fans and pointing to the golden Premier League badge on his shirt following a fight on the pitch, after halting their title chances with the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
He laughs about it now but assures there wasn’t extra pleasure to be gained from taking their city rivals out of the title race. In fact, the Brazilian says he was afraid something more serious could have happened on the pitch.
“We always want to win,” Willian recalls. “We weren’t worried about who would lift the title. The derby is very important to us, I think it was awesome and I believe that we can’t complain about the result as we equalised after being 2-0 down.
“Tottenham have so much quality, they’ve had a great campaign but exaggerated a little in some tackles and the game ended up that way, everyone fighting against each other.”
Willian will need to emulate his Chelsea performances with Brazil in June’s Copa America. The five-time world champions face one of their biggest crises and will have to deal with the absence of Neymar as the Barcelona forward will miss the tournament this summer.
The Chelsea star has been included in all of Dunga’s squads since his comeback to the side in 2014, and was applauded by the fans as a favourite in 2015. He appears to be the man to save the coach’s job – there’s no alternative.
“Dunga is the coach of our team,” the attacking midfielder explains. “I think he’s doing good work so we have to give confidence to him – if you look at his record he has many more wins than defeats.
“Getting kicked out of a competition will always be in the news; the World Cup, the Copa America, all these failures, but he’s got very good numbers and needs some credit.”
There’s a chance Willian might also be called up for the Olympics in August, and face a difficult schedule that would force him to miss the beginning of the next Premier League season.
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Dunga has already held talks with Chelsea’s new coach Antonio Conte – clubs don’t have to release their players for the Rio de Janeiro Games because the event is outside of FIFA’s calendar – but the Brazilian isn’t concerned about it.
“It wouldn’t be the first time a player features in both competitions but I’m not worried about it – the club is obliged to give a three-week vacation for every footballer,” Willian says.
“As I’ve already said, this is a decision that has to be taken by Chelsea and the Brazilian Football Confederation. I don’t want to get involved and end up in the middle of a conflict between them.”
There has already been enough drama this season for the £30 million star.
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