Willian to Anzhi: Sideways Step?

Willian cost Anzhi €35 million.

Willian cost Anzhi €35 million.

The January transfer window this year wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped. For me the biggest transfers happened outside of the Premier League. Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba to Galatasaray, David Beckham to Paris St-Germain and Taison to Shakhtar Donetsk. The biggest transfers in England in my opinion were the sale of Mario Balotelli to AC Milan and the arrival of the highly rated Lewis Holtby, who was chased by a number of clubs in the Premier League, he opted for Tottenham. Another major transfer that happened outside England was the sale of Shakhtar’s key man Willian who completed a move to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala. The Brazilian attacking midfielder has been linked with a move to Tottenham and Chelsea so it was a surprise to see him pick a move to the Russian League. This move has raised a number of questions and the main one has to be what direction has Willian’s career taken, a step forward? step backwards? or even a sideways step?

The 24 year old Brazilian spent 5 and a half years in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk where he played 216 times for Shakhtar scoring a total of 35 goals in all competitions. He has been a key part in the success Shakhtar have had over the years helping his side to 11 trophies. 4 Ukrainian Premier League titles, 3 Ukrainian Cup successes, 3 Ukrainian Super cup titles and also an impressive UEFA Cup success. Shakhtar have had another very exciting season so far which has grabbed the attention of many people, they are a side of brilliant attacking strength, which has proved too much for fellow Ukrainian sides in the league as they have scored an incredible 52 goals in the 18 games they have played. Not only do they have a fantastic attacking minded side they can also keep opponents at bay having only let in 9 goals in the league this season. Willian was thought to be a key asset for Shakhtar as they take on German champions Borussia Dortmund in the knockout stages of the Champions League in a couple of weeks time, however it appears not after Anzhi met the €35 million release clause.

Willian has attracted interest from a number of teams and in particular Tottenham who’s manager Andres Villas-Boas has been a keen admirer of the Brazilian international. The Premier League seemed the most likely destination for Willian having expressed his desire to someday play in the English league. However with a €35 million release clause slapped onto Willian’s contract it seemed to have priced out any Premier League suitors, which meant only a handful of clubs around the world being able to activate it. Most of those clubs will be found in the Russian League, the only problem was which club was willing to take the gamble. Anzhi decided to try their luck on the Brazilian as they hunt for their first trophy since 2009. They sit in second place in the Russian league just 2 points off leaders CSKA Moscow and they are also still in the hunt for European glory in the Europa League.

So back to the real question what direction has Willian taken? he has signed a long term deal with Anzhi and the first thought that crossed my mind was he has gone for the money, however I was surprised to see rumours of him being paid €40 a week which for a player of his quality is totally unexpected. So that brings up another question why move to Anzhi? The player himself has said that he is happy to join the club, they have big infrastructure and goals. He has also said he looks forward to working with one of the best coaches in the world, Guus Hiddink. As much as Shakhtar coach Lucescu tried he couldn’t convince the player to stay and he feels it was a hasty decision. Lucescu feels the player came under heavy pressure from his agent and relatives.
The Ukraine and Russian leagues are very similar in quite a few ways, however both leagues aren’t consider near the top leagues in the world and the teams don’t often have huge impact on European competitions. The Russian league does have more competition between the teams, than in the Ukraine which could be another factor in Willian’s decision. This year their are 3 teams in the hunt for the title whereas in Ukraine it will take a miracle for Shakhtar not to be crown champions as they lead by 13 points. The Russian league is over flowing with money and that is what is attracting the biggest names and young talents from around the world, it may not be up there as one of the best leagues and it will take sometime before it is considered one of the best. However the Russian league is slowly making good progress, with the better players coming to the league the competition has improved by quite a bit, over the years the gaps between first and second are getting smaller. If you wanted to see the best talents in Russia a few years ago you only had to look at Zenit or CSKA whereas now you can look at quite a few teams across the league, Spartak, Rubin Kazan and Anzhi all have made great additions to their teams over the years.
What direction has Willian taken? In my eyes you could say all three. It’s a sideways step since he is moving to a league which is very similar to the Ukrainian league. However it can be seen as a backwards step due to the European competition, Shakhtar are in the Champions League every year and are making a real challenge to win it this year. Whereas Anzhi are in the less prestigious competition out of the two, the Europa League. Also in Russia Anzhi haven’t got one hand on the league title and still have plenty of work to do whereas Shakhtar are close to being named champions. Despite that this could be classed as a forward step. The player has spoken about the long term future of Anzhi and how he along with the club are aiming very high. Anzhi are looking to build a great football infrastructure and they are also looking to improve the game in Russia and take the league to a higher level. So what direction do you feel he has taken?
For me one of the surprise moves of the window and only time will tell if this exciting Brazilian attacking midfielder will come to regret his decision or if he will flourish and achieve big things with Anzhi.
Article for footyscene.
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