Willian has emerged as one of the most important and consistent players for Brazil. A dedicated and regular performer for the Selecao, the Chelsea midfielder has played a vital role in the Brazil’s rebirth, having appeared for his country more than anybody else since World Cup 2014.
And it has been far from an easy ride for the 29-year-old, who has gone through three coaches, ‘the 7-1’, and two disappointing Copa America tournaments. He is still fighting, competing with Philippe Coutinho for a role on the right of coach Tite’s 4-1-4-1.
But nothing that has happened on the pitch comes close to the personal tragedy he has had to overcome following the loss of his mother last season.
Yet still Willian battles on, working tirelessly to give everything he has for his country. The only player to have lost his place in the first XI since Tite’s arrival, Willian is now providing his coach the biggest selection headache of his tenure so far, regularly turning in fine performances whenever he returns to the first XI.
Willian was one of the few bright sparks under previous coach Dunga as Brazil struggled in their early World Cup qualifiers. He grew in stature during that time, becoming an on-field leader and, despite no longer being guaranteed a first-team place when everyone is 100% fit, he is the joint second-most used player under Tite.
"I'm happy with the confidence that Tite has shown me. He and his coaching staff have been doing a great job. My relationship with him is the best I can hope for and I always say that he cares about all the players equally, giving the same level of attention to first-team players and reserves.
"Throughout my competition for a place with Coutinho, he was always very honest, insisting that we are two great players and he will play whoever is in the best form.”
On Tuesday, Brazil head to Wembley to face England in the Chevrolet Brasil Global Tour, an opponent that Willian knows extremely well. He has claimed two Premier League titles with Chelsea and appeared more than 200 times since joining the club in 2013.
"It’s an important test for us, against a different school of thought, a style which we are not used to facing," he says.
“England are an always strong team, they have great players and they are in good form after a great qualifying campaign. They have a lot of technical quality, too. We will have to be very focused.”
Check out our complete exclusive interview with Willian below:
Brasil Global Tour: Tite’s arrival as Brazil coach has seen the Selecao transformed into World Cup favourites.
Willian: I think it’s too early to speak about favourites. We still have [seven months] before the World Cup and we know we have to maintain our level of performances and continue to make some improvements if we want to have a great campaign in Russia.
BGT: What is the biggest strength of this team?
Willian: I think our biggest strength is that we have defined our way or playing, as well as the good relationships in the side. Having a good atmosphere off the pitch is also a big help.
BGT: Gabriel Jesus came to England very young is already starring in the Premier League as well as with the Selecao, Has his meteoric rise surprised you?
Willian: English football is really difficult because it is very physical, very intense. Gabriel surprised everyone because he adapted so quickly and showed his class right from the first game. He is a very good player, he is physically strong and he arrived in England well prepared for what he would face, that is why he has been so successful.
BGT: What is it like to play alongside Neymar?
Willian: It’s always easier when you’re playing alongside the really great players. Neymar is a star and it’s not by chance that he's again been rated among the best in the world.
BGT: What has been the biggest moment of your Brazil career so far?
Willian: Without a doubt, the 2014 World Cup. Being able to compete at a World Cup wearing the Brazil shirt, and in our own country, no less, was a very special moment. Unfortunately, the way we ended the competition made it very sad, and it was something that nobody had ever imagined. But even that cannot erase the pride of defending your country at a World Cup.