If there’s a theme to what Fulham is doing this year in the Premier League, it is one of trying to prove the doubters wrong. We have long been viewed as the yo-yo club, so it would not surprise most that we sign players who have portrayed that theme throughout their careers. Look no further than our possible newest signing: the quick-footed, agile, visionary distributor – highly experienced winger, Willian Borges da Silva, better known as Willian.
What we know about Fulham’s current predicament is that our highly rated wingers of Harry Wilson and Manor Solomon will be injured for quite some time. We also know that Kebano and Decordova-Reid can do a job. In addition, we have some youth breaking through such as fan favourite Jay Stansfield, who made his Premier League debut at Wolves. It wouldn’t surprise me if Willian was signed to challenge Pereira’s spot as well.
I look at potential players the way I would scout for a club: by actually watching their matches. So, what are we really needing Willian for? What can he bring to the competitive table for these existing wingers? For me, he raises the quality of competition beyond what we currently have – even with Wilson and Solomon healthy. Watching his matches for Corinthians, you can just tell that his teammates know to get the ball to him. There is no hesitation to pass to him, and once he receives the ball – anything can happen.
An interesting stat is Willian’s age. He is 34 years old, and if I wasn’t told that, I would have thought he was in his mid-20s. I understand the hesitation here, but again, watching a 34-year-old that is most likely at the same top speed as some of our fastest players, is not a stretch. I’d also bet that he has one of the fastest acceleration numbers on the team.
The first thing noticed is just how good his first touch is – how soft – and not only that but how it sets up his next move. He doesn’t perform many step-overs, just simple changes of pace with every touch – and once there is an opening, he’s gone. The word “glide” comes to mind when I watch him. He glides past defending players – there’s no answer to stopping him, only the hope that he tires. He can play on either wing and even right behind the striker in the number 10 position. Just as impressive as his dribbling is the quality field vision the Brazilian has. It may not show on the stats table, but the number of chances that are potentially created by Willian is significant. His decision-making in crucial areas is second to none.
On the defensive side, he’s not a workhorse by any means. He will certainly chase down a ball in advanced areas and put pressure where needed. Every single time he’s lost possession of the ball, which is rare, he will not give up until he can get close to recovering possession. From what I have seen of Corinthians tactics, the manager has often chosen for Willian to stay further forward to serve as an outlet in transition rather than drop and defend alongside the wingback.
There are some concerns with Willian of course. The most obvious being his lack of goals and assists. How can we bring in a player that obviously does not have the end product statistically? I am honestly not concerned. There is too much potential there, and too much quality within Willian that we would be smart to use what we can out of him. Whether it needs a player to hold onto the ball or a player who has the pace to create chances deep into a half. Or simply put, we just need a player of his quality that will raise the level of competition among midfielders.
I think the match against Wolves showed just how important it is to have quality players who can hold onto the ball and create chances. We were incredibly wasteful in attacking areas. Simple things such as choosing to dribble instead of pass, or not having the capability to make a crucial pass in certain areas. The calmness from experience that Willian brings is something we need now. He could be a utility player, but I would not be surprised if he puts more pressure on Pereira than the crop of wingers.
The level of play in the Premier League is obviously much higher than the Brasileiro, but if we take the best parts of Willian and apply it to Marco Silva’s system, he could be one of the most important signings of this season. Being an older player may not matter as much, but being an experienced professional who has had his own hardships with social media threats against his family – and the desire to change his scenery has been made obvious by his terminated Corinthians contract. I can think of a couple of Fulham players who have experienced strands of this abuse, and it’s possible the relation to that may result in a positive bond for Willian.
Much like the majority of those associated with our club, Willian will have a lot to prove. His abilities are unquestionable to me, and I hope we get him across the line to join us in proving the doubters wrong by staying in the Premier League.