No summer is complete without intense transfer speculation linking a player from one of Europe’s super clubs to another.
And this one is no different. One story that doesn’t seem to go away revolves around Chelsea’s very own Willian, who has reportedly been the subject of a £50m offer from Barcelona.
The 29-year-old winger sees his present deal at Stamford Bridge expire in June 2020, and Chelsea are said to be holding out for a higher fee. But assuming a figure is agreed somewhere down the line and Willian secures a move to the La Liga champions, who beyond the player, Barcelona and Chelsea stands to gain from this scenario? A potential move of this nature will have ramifications. More specifically, there will be winners and losers besides the immediately obvious.
New management obviously means a new way of doing things. It could be that Maurizio Sarri might not fancy the Brazilian, anyway.
That said, during his unveiling Sarri stressed that he is more than happy to work with what he has got, and given the Italian tactician adores productive wide players, it’s easy to see why he might be willing to work with a player like Willian.
Beyond the Brazilian, mainly because of Antonio Conte’s system and its use of wing-backs, Chelsea fielded only two other wingers extensively in the league last season. One of these was Eden Hazard (more on him shortly). The other was Pedro, whose most recent season was one of decline. Yet with Sarri’s arrival and Willian’s departure, the latter’s fortunes could change.
Pedro was named in Conte’s starting XI in the league on 26 occasions, during which he scored nine times to help secure the Premier League title, over the course of his second season at Stamford Bridge. Looking at last term, these figures drop to 17 starts and four goals. Despite this Pedro has expressed a willingness to stay in west London for another campaign and the technical skills acquired during the Spaniard’s playing days with heavily possession-based Barcelona teams will serve him well as he seeks to convince Sarri he can be his new Lorenzo Insigne or Jose Callejon. Should Willian leave and remove one competitor from the equation in terms of playing personnel, Pedro will find making his case that little bit easier.
Loser: Eden Hazard
Could this be the summer something actually comes of the annual links between Eden Hazard and Real Madrid? Comments made by the player himself suggest it has never been more likely, although should Willian leave Hazard is likely to find extricating himself from Chelsea trickier.
Hazard will not look to the Europa League, a competition in which he will be playing this year should a transfer not come about, with much in the way of relish. He successfully performed 40 dribbles at the 2018 World Cup as Belgium reached the semi-finals, at least eight more than any other player, and perhaps there is no better dribbler in football today.
Beyond the base-level incentive of keeping their best player at Stamford Bridge, as mentioned above Chelsea have only three senior wingers with any significant first-time game time to speak of from last season. Losing two of those with less than a month of the transfer window remaining puts them in the kind of tight spot a club like Chelsea, where so much hinges on breaking back into the Champions League places this time out, are desperate to avoid. Indeed, since Hazard lit the touchpaper on this saga for another summer by publicly admitting he is considering a move, the Blues appear to have briefed the press that they will not be bullied into a sale.
So, to avoid being left short, it is conceivable Chelsea dig their heels in, just as Liverpool did when Barcelona came calling for Philippe Coutinho last summer, to deprive Hazard of a Madrid move for another transfer window.
Winner: Barça’s Brazil contingent
Historically the connection between FC Barcelona and Brazil is strong. Brazil are very much Barça’s contemporary suppliers, having produced their second-highest number of foreign players
The two most recent additions came this year: Philippe Coutinho joined in January and was then followed by Arthur this summer. Willian and Coutinho know each other well, having played 30 times alongside each other exclusively for A Seleção (including five matches at Russia 2018).
Familiarity between players breeds synergy and if Willian takes up a place in Barça’s front-three – which includes Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez – reigniting his relationship with Coutinho at club level could pay dividends for the Spanish champions.
Loser: Ousmane Dembele
The potential arrival of Willian could potentially spell trouble for Barça’s recent World Cup winner Ousmane Dembele, who arrived last summer from Borussia Dortmund in a deal worth £135.5m.
Despite this huge investment, there are reports he could be exiting the Camp Nou this summer, albeit on loan, and if you think the powers that be are crazy then look no further than Paulinho, who strangely left as quickly as he arrived.
Ousmane Dembélé has been directly involved in a goal once every 92.55 minutes for Barcelona across all competitions this season:
1018 minutes ⏱
7 assists 🅰️
4 goals ⚽️
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 9, 2018
In fairness, it was a difficult first season for the Frenchman, who suffered one serious injury after another. As a result, it cut short the number appearances he was able to make for the five-time European champions, 23 matches played in total, and the last thing he needs is added competition for places. His exuberance and potential might not be enough against Willian’s experience.
Winner: Wilfried Zaha
Naturally all eyes will be on Chelsea and how they will react if Willian does indeed say goodbye. Do they dip into the market? Probably. So who is available?
One name frequenting many a gossip column in recent days is that of Crystal Palace’s mercurial winger, Wilfried Zaha, who for many was the best footballer outside the Premier League’s top six last season.
It never happened for him at Manchester United when he famously became the last player Sir Alex Ferguson signed, but there’s no question Zaha is a much better player than the one who initially left boyhood club Palace for Old Trafford in 2013.
The last 18 months have seen the Ivorian become the Eagles’ fulcrum; everything positive they do goes through him. Roy Hodgson, his manager, believes there’s a Messi-esque quality to Zaha – is his ability to produce game-changing moments through his ability on the ball – but more importantly, he has earned another chance to play for one of England’s biggest clubs. The stars are starting to align for Zaha.
Loser: Jose Mourinho and Man Utd
Willian joined Chelsea from Anzhi Makhachkala back in August 2013 and immediately forged an understanding with boss Jose Mourinho. A first season ended trophyless, but the Blues romped to championship glory a year later, it quickly became apparent how important the native of Ribeirão Pires, through his ability to combine technical ability with graft, was to their cause.
A season later, Chelsea went off the rails, but Willian remained a consistent performer and rightly so was named Chelsea Player of the Year. From afar, Mourinho remained an admirer and soon after taking charge at Manchester United in mid-2016 acquiring the services of the Brazilian was reportedly a priority.
It never came to fruition as Willian grabbed another league winner’s medal, but the speculation never went away, so if he is to relocate to Barcelona you can imagine how Mourinho will feel inside.