Chelsea’s Little Drummer Boy Willian is Bang on Tune
The searing pace and quickfire trickery of Willian took a while to show itself in English football as Chelsea struggled to find rhythm and form. But as the winger has found his feet, so Jose Mourinho’s team have begun to gather ground in the most enthralling Premier League title race in years.
When people talk about the Samba beat of Brazilian football, they are usually rolling out yet another easy cliche about the glamour and sexiness of the game in what many regard as its spiritual home.
But in Willian’s case, it is the backing track to his life. If he hadn’t been a footballer, he would probably have been a drummer in a samba band. He still practises on his pandeiro drums at home in sleepy Surrey, and he is also learning the cavaquinho, a sort of Brazilian mandolin.
The drums have been in the hands of the boy from Sao Paulo all through his journey from Corinthians in his home town, to Shakhtar Donetsk and Anzhi Makhachkala, and finally stolen from under the noses of Tottenham in a £30million transfer to Stamford Bridge last summer.
“If I had not become a footballer I would have liked to have played music in a group, playing percussion. A samba band,” he said. “I have the drums here and I still play. But I always wanted to play football.”
The emergence of Willian has kept Juan Mata, Chelsea’s player of last season, out of the starting XI as Mourinho prefers the Brazilian’s hard graft at the core of his team.
He can also play, of course, and it is his creativity and goals that have Chelsea nicely poised in third as they prepare to face Manchester United tomorrow.
“When I arrived things went slowly,” he admitted. “You need to get used to the other players, the way we play, the philosophy of the coach.
“Mourinho is a great coach. He has guided me with what he wants. He gives me freedom, but he likes his players not to neglect their defensive work.
“He expects and demands a lot. But this is normal from a coach who wins things.”
It is hard to imagine the slight and unassuming 25-year-old sat with us now, taking the brave leap to leave Brazil and play in Ukraine at the tender age of 19.
He had been spotted by Corinithians at the age of nine after scoring against them for his district team. “One day we had a friendly match against them,” he recalled. “I scored and it went on from there.”
Although on his own website it states Willian was a good school student, he confessed: “I was terrible. My mum Maria did my homework. I did nothing in class. I don’t know what I would have done if I did not have football.”