At the age of 25, Willian walked through the doors at Stamford Bridge for the first time after signing for Chelsea in the summer of 2013, for a reported fee of £30 million.
In the following years, the Brazilian winger proved to be worth every penny, becoming a key cog in the Blues’ recent success.
Willian has made 334 appearances across all competitions for the London club, scoring 63 goals and providing a further 60 assists till date.
In the meantime, he helped the club win two Premier League titles, one FA Cup, one League Cup and the Europa League last season.
Despite being a loyal servant to Chelsea, and a player who is absolutely adored by the fans for his professionalism and work ethic, the club have decided not to renew the 31-year-old’s contract, and so, in over three weeks time, Willian will become a free agent.
Chelsea’s dilemma with Willian
It has been reported that the Brazilian winger wants a three-year contract extension, and the Blues are only ready to offer him a two-year deal.
Given his elaborate contributions, clearly the player isn’t asking an awful lot, just an additional 12 months to the what Chelsea are willing to offer.
For the unversed, the Premier League giants have a policy of offering short-term renewals to players over the age of 30, and given Willian is already 31, the Blues don’t want to break their own policy.
However, there’s much more at stake here than what meets the eye.
Why the Blues are hesitant to agree to Willian’s conditions?
A look at the players at Frank Lampard’s disposal makes it obvious that the club are currently under a transitional period. They are in the midst of making a core team through the help of young players.
Offering a long-term contract could hamper the development of the likes of Christian Pulisic, who is finally beginning to find his feet at Stamford Bridge after joining from Borussia Dortmuns last summer.
Elsewhere, Callum Hudson-Odoi may have struggled from various issues both on and off the pitch, but at 19, the Englishman is clearly one for the future.
Add to that the recent signings of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, Lampard may not be able to guarantee regular playing time to Willian.
The Blues have also been linked to Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz, and if that deal sees the light of the day, the squad will be heavily stocked with attacking positions.
So, would it be wise for Chelsea to keep hold of Willian or should they let him leave for free?
Willian proving his worth to Chelsea in recent weeks
Ever since the Premier League resumed post the coronavirus-enforced break, Willian has started all five games, which is a testament of how highly he’s valued by Frank Lampard.
Statistically, he’s their most productive player within the team, having contributed four goals (all of them from set-pieces) and one assist since Project Restart began.
The veteran winger has scored 11 goals in total this term, second only to star striker Tammy Abraham, with only Cesar Azpilicueta and Mason Mount starting more games than Willian.
And those are the number for just this season, while the Brazilian has been quietly going about doing his business year after year since 2013.
Even at his age, the former Shakhtar Donetsk player remains full of running, his attacking output brilliant as ever, and he’s first and foremost a team player, willing to put aside individual glory for collective success.
A seasoned international like Willian surely wouldn’t be any good playing second fiddle to Chelsea’s young guns, and with Arsenal and Tottenham waiting in the wings, it would seem like a move away from Stamford Bridge would suit all parties.
However, as evident from the Blues’ recent 3-0 win over Watford, their old guard still has a lot to offer. Apart from Willian, Olivier Giroud, who was nearing an exit earlier in January, scored his second goal post the league’s restart in the routine win on Saturday.
Lampard himself stressed the importance of having a ‘balance’ between young and experienced personnel in his post-match press conference.
Judging by the signs in recent weeks, it would be foolish of Chelsea to let go of Willian just yet, as he still has a lot to offer, and by letting him leave on a free-transfer to possibly a league rival, the Blues would be doing no good to themselves.
Rather, they would only help strengthen the case of one of their fellow Premier League top-four hopefuls.
All stats courtesy: Transfermarkt