Two seasons ago in the quarter-final of the Champions League, there was a high-profile tie including one (maybe two) English clubs and, naturally, plenty of excitement and interest. Not for me, thanks. Instead, I opted for a much more interesting affair in Eastern Europe as Barcelona travelled to the Donbass Arena for their tie with Shakhtar. It might raise thoughts of depression, and even the sunniest days are painted in nothing be grey, but there are a number of outstanding footballers in Eastern Europe. So when there is a rare chance to watch Shakhtar Donetsk, I take it.
Willian is one of the key talents on show, as is Douglas Costa. Both of whom take up important roles in the squad, but Willian is arguably the team’s best player; at least the best of their many Brazilian imports. With a fee around £12 million, it’s a real wonder how Willian escaped the clutches of big clubs further west. But like Douglas Costa later on, perhaps the move to a less reputable league was best.
Willian isn’t a flash in the pan or someone who will only succeed in leagues such as the Ukrainian Premier League; it’s for good reason that Shakhtar are holding out for a high price for one of their most talented assets. Impressively, when Willian does eventually leave, the cash will be spent again by Shakhtar to bring in another diamond in the rough.
If Tottenham were to land Willian they really would be pulling off a major coup. Chelsea were obviously linked last summer, but there have also been reports linking Willian with Spain in the past. He’s a player who finds comfort on the flanks but is equally capable of playing through the middle, where he often ends up as the game progresses.
An eye for goal, creativity and flair are the attributes you’d normally associate with any Brazilian attacker, and all of those qualities are correct to Willian’s game. The most significant quality he’d bring to Spurs is his ability to combine well with the other attacking players in the team and help to take the club up to the next level. There’s no doubting that is a player who could slot in comfortably at one of the bigger clubs around Europe.
It would also be a great signal to outsiders that Spurs are very much capable of moving on from the Luka Modric saga as a team still capable of challenging. Willian seems intent and in some way destined for the Premier League, and what a showing it would be if Spurs could parade a player of his calibre around the league.
Despite Willian’s ability to find the net in spectacular fashion, he is not someone who is likely to add a great number of goals to his name. Instead, he works well in a very fluid and attack-orientated midfield to supply the lone striker, usually Luiz Adriano. Players like Fernandinho work well deeper in midfield, while the other flair players weave their way through the opposition defence.
It was a brave move when the owner of Shakhtar declared the club would one day win a European trophy. Naturally, he was laughed out of the building but certainly not out of town. The make up of the club is impressive, with their incredible stadium and very successful scouting network. But Willian really is the crown jewel in this team (perhaps alongside fantastic club captain Darijo Srna). His transfer to an English club and specifically Spurs would definitely not see him surrender that status. He and Gareth Bale could form a wonderful attacking partnership, with both able to swap positions and use their individual strengths to find paths to goal.
For now, it seems Spurs’ bid is well away from what Shakhtar want for their player. A deal will only come off if the valuation is met, as Shakhtar can be an extremely difficult club to negotiate with. But Willian will be a great addition to English football. £20-plus million and money well spent? In my book, definitely.