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What will Fulham do with Willian this summer?

Written by Alex Mackenzie on 4th April 2024

Copyright: Jez Tighe (Licenced via Imago Images)

The season is not even finished, but already we know that Fulham are going to have quite the summer. The run-in will be a challenge and a push for a top-half finish is the goal now that safety is seeming more likely. However, when the curtain does come down, whether Fulham finish 13th or eighth, they will have plenty to ponder. There will be no time at all to make some important decisions. Tosin, Bobby De Cordova-Reid, and Willian will all be out of contract in June. These three first team players will begin negotiations with the club’s hierarchy, on top of Fulham’s chase for their desired transfer targets.

Willian is the biggest name in those four, and his renewal arguably poses the most difficult question. Tosin may get to a point where he has options and Fulham is ultimately the best one. Bobby is likely to end up with a similar decision. We hope that both end up at Fulham next season. Tosin will want to put himself in the best place to negotiate by churning out performances of top quality. Bobby will want to do the same. Willian on, the other hand, has already proved his worth so far this season. His class is undeniable.

Consistently classy

His performances against Wolves, Sheffield United, Bournemouth, West Ham and Nottingham Forest all stand out. He’s got seven goal contributions already this term in all competitions. His goal at Anfield gave Fulham a chance to dream in the League Cup. His average rating in the Premier League this season is 7.21 (FootyStats) and 6.82 (WhoScored). What is more reassuring, it that his numbers are strikingly similar to the 2022/23 season. There is very little different in the performance level data (shooting accuracy, passing number average and big chances missed). Something that Fulham have craved for lies in Willian, namely: consistency. Willian’s overall influence on the squad are no doubt an important asset as well. He gels well with Muniz and has a great relationship with the rest of the squad, who look up to him. Both Cairney and Muniz have said that he is one of the best players they’ve ever played with’.

So, what to do we do next? Fulham had to pay a substantial increase in his salary to keep the player who garnered interest from Nottingham Forest and a few Saudi clubs last summer. Is another one-year contract the way to go? Fulham could surely use a player of his influence just in and around the dressing room, as that has definite value. Having a winner in the team with a rich playing history can only be good for morale. Do Fulham offer him something for him to consider going into the summer? Or do they wait until the 11th hour like last term, see who else is interested and let Willian dictate he would rather do. He will be another year older, and his quality is still there, but his role will have to be watered down as the physicality of the league takes a toll.

Destined for the dugout?

There’s a strong argument for him to consider staying at Fulham and lining him up for a role in Marco Silva’s management team. Luis Boa Morte leaving will have triggered conversations around who could come in and take over as an assistant. Willian is not going to be quite as qualified for the role as potential competitors, but Fulham has been a good place for managers to earn their badges in the past. Willian could think about that as a potential avenue, and a breeding ground for his potential coaching career. Perhaps realistically, this is too early, but something to consider.

Potent winger to patient playmaker?

Earlier in the season I wrote about Fulham needing to switch up their playing style in order to get the best out of Raul Jiminez. Fulham eventually did that, but Muniz has now made most of that article redundant given his current form. If his run continues there is little doubt that Muniz will be the starting striker going forward.

However, that article did contain one nugget that may still have some resonance: that being the possibility of Willian playing in a deeper role as a playmaker in the future. Ryan Giggs was a left winger for a long time. With age Giggs ended up being pushed into a deep lying metronome role so he could contribute with his golden touch and experience.

Willian could be given a longer career at Fulham if he was offered the chance to change positions to one that demanded less of him physically. After all, we’ve seen Adama Traore come on leaps and bounds since his injury, and some think Fabio Carvalho will rejoin after falling out of favour with Liverpool and the signs of life he’s shown at Hull. If there is to be a Joao transfer Fulham will have to live without a dynamic midfielder who gives Fulham quick turnovers. A slower paced game is what Fulham could end up adopting as a playing style.

Marco Silva has been speaking to Willian throughout the season and stated that Willian is going to wait until the end of the season to make a decision. As the conversations surrounding his future draw nearer, these are the kind of ideas he can bring to the table when conversations begin.

An unclear future

The club will also be monitoring his involvement during the run-in. A player with this much pedigree, with only months left on their contract and one who’s already achieved a lot in the game, poses potential commitment issues. As Fulham push for a European football spot, his commitment to the long-term vision of the club will be put into focus. If we’re not sure he wants to play again next season, do we trust him ahead of Harry Wilson and Bobby De Cordova-Reid for the sprint finish end to the campaign? Or will he want to put Fulham as high up the table as possible, to play more high-level football again next term in a push for Europe and or a trophy?

If we trust Marco Silva, he will have sussed this out in his preliminary discussions with Willian. There will still be plenty of opportunities for the Brazilian to show his undoubted class, but his decision about his future, given all that he has already proven, will always be his own. Fulham will have to respect that. Whatever he chooses, it will give Marco another headache. Another issue to deliberate with the backroom staff and hierarchy come the summer.

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