– Recent reports have suggested that Manchester
United are looking to add not one Brazilian
midfielder to their ranks, but two.
been written about Fred, acquired from Shakhtar
Donetsk, but Chelsea’s Willian could prove an
even more versatile signing. It is unclear why
Chelsea would contemplate letting him go, but if
United have a chance to buy him they should
Willian is the perfect Jose Mourinho player: in
the sense that he is tactically intelligent, works
extremely hard in defence and attack, and does
not need to be integrated into complex attacking
systems in order to thrive.
In fact, he even thrives when his fellow
teammates are playing poorly, as was seen in
the 2015-16 Premier League season. Then, as
Chelsea made one of the worst ever defences of
their title (so poor that Mourinho was sacked),
Willian flourished while Eden Hazard flailed and
scored 11 goals in 49 games in all competitions.
The Brazilian is supremely self-sufficient, even
more so than Alexis Sanchez. Yet despite doing
so much by himself, Willian is a superb team
player — there is a selflessness about his play
that sometimes makes you forget how gifted on
the ball he is.
He throws himself into defensive work with the
vigour of Antonio Valencia and can not only play
as an out-and-out winger on either flank, but
also in a midfield two or three. He is equally
effective when trying to break down deep-lying
defences or when leading the counter-attack, as
United saw recently when he faced them in
Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford. Willian is
also a fine free kick taker — an area in which
United, despite the presence of Paul Pogba and
Juan Mata, have struggled.
Most importantly, Willian would solve two key
problems. The first is that he would add crucial
drive and depth to United’s midfield, helping to
ease the formidable workload faced by Ander
Herrera and Nemanja Matic. The second is that
he would instantly give United’s right flank far
greater pace and width.
On the right, Mourinho has often favoured a
combination of Valencia and Mata, with the
Spanish midfielder cutting in off the flank and
finding space in central areas, allowing Valencia
to take control of the right wing. The problem
with that is two-fold: It makes the job easier for
the opposing left-back, since there is only one
player approaching him, and also gives Valencia
a degree of playmaking responsibility which is
not required for the way he plays now.
Valencia was a freewheeling winger years ago,
but years as a full-back have curbed his
attacking flair, and specifically the accuracy of
his crossing. It is probably asking too much, as
Mourinho has in recent seasons, to expect him
to be both the right flank’s best defender and
best attacker — especially at age 32. If Willian
were to be signed, though, Valencia could
supplement the attack when needed.
Tite trusts Willian so much that he plays him in
his multi-talented Brazil team. And trust is
perhaps more important to Mourinho more than
any other manager.
The United manager is a particularly demanding
taskmaster and players who disappoint him in
big matches are quickly discarded. Willian, like
Nemanja Matic before him, is very much a
known quantity to Mourinho, having won a
league title with him in 2014-15.
His signing, from that perspective, would not
represent a risk. The only point of hesitation
over buying Willian is that it seems to buck the
trend of Mourinho trying to create a young team
that can compete for years.
Willian, like Matic and Sanchez is 29. This hardly
makes him ancient, but it does mean that United
will have to replace a core of key players within
four years. That is a sign of the short-termism
which has characterised most of Mourinho’s
career to date, and suggests an urgency on the
That urgency is not necessarily a bad thing, it is
just a sign that the United job may not have
changed Mourinho as much as observers might
have hoped. It is also a continuation of the
Mourinho trend, as first seen when he arrived at
Chelsea from Porto, to bring a few title-winning
players with him.
So, the pursuit of Willian should continue. He
would make United a far more solid proposition
in defence, bring some entertainment, and offer
both goals and assists — the key area in which
they were lacking last year.
As they did with Matic, United can only hope
that Chelsea are sufficiently unwise to let him