Not many players achieve cult status before a ball has been kicked, especially not a 25-year-old Brazilian winger arriving in England with a modest reputation after spells with Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia and Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. But when Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich attempted to hijack Spurs’ £30 million deadline-day transfer in 2013, Willian fast-tracked his name into folklore by becoming a willing accomplice.

Tottenham thought they had their man. Willian had agreed terms and undergone a medical, only for Chelsea to declare their hand. He spent eight hours in total at Spurs Lodge before eventually being released to move across the capital, earning him instant affection among gleeful Blues fans.

The soundtrack to a journey comprising more than 300 appearances and five major trophies was defined from the outset, a chant reveling in how “the s—s from Spurs, they bought his flight, but Willian, he saw the light.” Renditions have been a near-weekly occurrence during his seven years at the club.

Yet circumstances are now conspiring to deliver the ultimate irony: Willian’s time at Chelsea ending with him joining a London rival. The 31-year-old is out of contract on June 30, with Arsenal and Tottenham among several clubs eyeing a bargain in what will be a depressed summer transfer market as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

With Willian returning to England this week, following compassionate leave, and Premier League clubs gearing up to restart group training, the veteran playmaker faces the curious prospect of trying to secure a Champions League spot for a club he will not be contracted to — at the expense of another club he could soon join. How did it come to this? Continue reading…

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