“I’ll never forget where I came from,” says Willian, as the 29-year-old tells FourFourTwo about starting on the streets of Brazil, using flip-flops for goalposts, to playing professionally in the Ukrainian league.
From there, Willian moved to Anzhi Makhachkala – the only club willing to pay his buyout clause. Then came his much-discussed move to the Premier League.
“The situation was… complicated. Well, not complicated actually. It was more... unusual,” Willian tells FourFourTwo as he reflects on the 2013 transfer window, when he was strongly linked with Tottenham before eventually signing for their crosstown rivals.
“When I came to London, there were other clubs interested in my football: Liverpool, Tottenham as well as Chelsea. I was just waiting for the negotiations to be completed. My agent was talking to the clubs.
“I was just waiting for the decision. In the end, I ended up going to Chelsea. When I understood they were really keen to sign me, I said my decision was made. I wanted to go to Chelsea.”
It might have taken a while for Willian to adjust and find his best form in England, but he’s now a firm fan favourite at Stamford Bridge.
The attacking midfielder has won two Premier League titles with Chelsea, but particularly notable is that he was one of the few players whose form didn’t drop during the club's struggles through 2015/16.
“I've won titles and made history at Chelsea,” he tells FFT. “I've experienced incredible moments at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
“I think I managed to keep improving my football even during difficult periods for the team. I've managed to maintain a high level of performance.
“I’m very happy at Chelsea. I just try to improve year on year. And it’s been happening.”
Watch the full Willian: My Story video on FourFourTwo’s YouTube channel now as he discusses coping with criticism after his move to Anzhi, and when he first got the call-up for the Brazilian national team.
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Alex Reid is a freelance journalist and the former digital features editor at FourFourTwo. He has also written for the Guardian, talkSPORT, Boxing News and Sport magazine. Like most Londoners, he is a lifelong supporter of Aberdeen FC. He is deceptively bad in the air for a big man. He has never been a cage fighter.
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