Arsenal misfit Willian's dream Corinthians comeback becoming a nightmare amid sick threats and poor form

Willian lamenta em Corinthians x GrêmioGetty Images

A two-time UEFA Cup and Europa League winner, veteran of 14 seasons and 14 major titles in European football and recipient of 70 international caps for Brazil, Willian must have had high hopes when at 33 he embarked on his latest adventure back home for Corinthians in 2021.

The ex-Shakhtar Donetsk, Chelsea and Arsenal star, however, has found life at his boyhood club to be a daunting task.

After less than a year, he and his team are at their lowest ebb as their season already hangs in the balance.

While the current campaign in Brazil has only just begun, the pressure is mounting.

Corinthians bowed out of the Paulista state championship at the semi-final stage to hated rivals Sao Paulo and began their Copa Libertadores challenge in the worst possible fashion, going down 2-0 to Always Ready in an abject defeat in the heights of La Paz, Bolivia.

The enthusiasm generated by two consecutive wins to begin Serie A has also taken a knock following another humbling reverse, Sunday's comprehensive 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Palmeiras.

Corinthians currently lie bottom of their Libertadores group and another negative result on Tuesday at home to Argentine giants Boca Juniors would place their campaign in serious peril, with the spotlight already turned on last year's star signing.

Earlier in the year, Willian made a brave stand in using his massive public profile to condemn the epidemic of fan violence that is ravaging all levels of Brazilian football in 2022, leaving several players hurt or even hospitalised from attacks perpetrated in and outside stadiums in a series of shocking incidents.

“Nothing is happening to [the aggressors]. They just keep on doing this,” he said on Instagram in March during a stinging attack on the authorities' inability to act.

“The authorities tolerate this. I have learned one thing, that we cannot complain about what we tolerate .

“I am here to say we are outraged by this situation. We have to join together to combat violence in football.”

Willian PS

Less than two months later, Willian became a target himself.

Corinthians' Libertadores reverse prompted a string of sickening threats against the winger and his family, which according to an ESPN report prevented his daughters from attending school and kept them confined to their Sao Paulo home due to fears over their safety.

“One said that he would set fire to his car and targeted Willian on Instagram,” the player's father Severino da Silva told Brasil Urgente. “There, he talked about his daughters and his family.”

Willian also took extreme measures, including the hiring of security personnel to accompany him to the Timao's training sessions, and even considered leaving the club and Brazil altogether out of concerns his family could be in danger, although he has since decided to stay put at least for the time being.

On the pitch, meanwhile, the veteran still seems to be struggling to find his rhythm after a prolonged absence from the game.

Only sporadically used for Arsenal during his final months at the club in 2021, his return to the game once signing for Corinthians was delayed when it emerged in the wake of Brazil's World Cup qualifying debacle against Argentina that he had not undergone an appropriate Covid-19 quarantine period before beginning training with his new club, leading to a two-week suspension.

Willian was forced to wait until September 19 to finally make his debut, almost four and a half months after his last competitive start for the Gunners.

In total, the ex-Brazil ace made nine appearances for Corinthians in 2021, completing all 90 minutes just once and failing to score; while this term, despite gaining more regular first-team football, has so far been similarly underwhelming.

Willian contributed a solitary goal and another assist to Corinthians' unsuccessful state title bid against minnows such as Serie C outfit Mirassol and Sao Bernardo of Serie D, and while a bright performance in their Serie A opener against Botafogo raised hopes the brilliant, explosive winger that starred for Chelsea and Brazil in his prime he is still well short of finding any consistently impressive form for the Timao.

Tuesday's game against Boca might just prove to be a turning point.

The Argentines are in less than healthy shape themselves and currently have three central defenders and goalkeeper Agustin Rossi unavailable through injury, while Marcos Rojo is additionally suspended for the clash.

The visitors' makeshift defensive preparations represent a golden opportunity for Willian to show his true potential against one of South America's biggest sides and silence his doubters.

Fall short, however, and his dream return to Corinthians could end up being a nightmare.