August 1, 2021

Willian Jose on Wolves, Spurs and his PL dream

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Willian Jose is no stranger to new beginnings. The first half of his career involved six different loan spells in five years, taking him from Brazil to Spain all while registered to Uruguayan side Deportivo Maldonado. Now 29, Wolves is club number 10.

The striker passed through Sao Paulo FC, Gremio, Santos, Real Madrid, Real Zaragoza and Las Palmas during those early years, eventually settling at Real Sociedad, and while his latest loan move puts him back on familiar ground – Wolves have an option to buy him but no obligation – it already feels different to the previous ones.

“It has been really good so far,” he tells Sky Sports, speaking by video call from the club’s Compton training ground. “I am getting to know my team-mates and the club and I am very happy.

“I expected it to be a bit more difficult here, with the weather and the different style of football, but I think I’m adapting well. To tell you the truth, it feels like I’ve been here for a lot longer than I have.”

He has certainly packed a lot in.

Willian Jose made his debut against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last week only hours after he was granted a work permit – “I hadn’t even trained with the team,” he says – and on his third appearance just six days later against Arsenal, he won the contentious penalty that saw David Luiz red carded and sent Wolves on their way to a first win in nine Premier League games.

The circumstances surrounding David Luiz’s dismissal prompted plenty of debate but Willian Jose’s impact in that game is precisely what he was brought in for. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side had sorely missed a focal point up front without Raul Jimenez, who is still recovering from a fractured skull, and it is no coincidence their recent improvement coincides with Willian Jose’s arrival.

The 29-year-old, although still waiting for his first goal, has provided experience and physicality in the striker position and his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play certainly helped on Tuesday night. “For now, it’s about taking advantage of what he can give us immediately,” said Nuno after the game.

Willian Jose won Wolves' penalty in the 2-1 victory over Arsenal
Image: Willian Jose won Wolves’ penalty in the 2-1 victory over Arsenal

Willian Jose is happy to oblige. “The club told me that they needed a striker with my characteristics because Raul is injured and they don’t have another player like him,” he says. “I saw that it was a very good opportunity for me to come and show what I can do.”

That is not to say it was an easy decision.

Willian Jose, a sort of footballing nomad between 2011 and 2016, had finally found a home at Real Sociedad, scoring 62 goals in 170 games across five seasons and laying down roots in the city of San Sebastian, where his wife is expecting their first child.

“I was at Real Sociedad for four and a half years,” he says. “I had a lot of very good moments and not many bad ones. I was comfortable there and settled at the club and in the city. With my family situation too, it was a difficult decision to leave.

“But this is the life of a footballer. There are challenges and you have to be prepared for everything. I had followed Wolves for the last two or three years and I could see that they have a very good squad with important players, almost all of whom play for their national teams.

“I felt like it was time for a change and I have always had a dream of playing in the Premier League, so this opportunity was a very good one for me. I hope things continue to go well.”

Willian Jose might have fulfilled his Premier League dream a year earlier had a move to Tottenham come to fruition last January. Jose Mourinho wanted to sign him as cover for the injured Harry Kane but Real Sociedad felt Tottenham’s offer fell short of their valuation and talks between the clubs broke down.

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“A lot of things happened,” says Willian Jose. “I had an offer from them but Real Sociedad didn’t want to let me go. I saw the opportunity to play in the Premier League for a big team with a lot of big players. I had spoken with Mourinho and he had told me he wanted me there.

“I felt there was a possibility I was leaving so I asked Real Sociedad to be left out of a game against Espanyol. But in the end it didn’t happen and I stayed there for another year.”

Willian Jose had to mend bridges at Real Sociedad after the Spurs saga but he regained his place in the side in the second half of last season, scoring decisive goals in wins over Eibar, Villarreal and Espanyol, and departed for Molineux a year later on good terms.

The Brazilian has made a similarly positive impression in his new surroundings, helped in no small part by the sizeable contingent of Portuguese speakers in the Wolves dressing room.

“It was quite difficult against Chelsea because I only met everyone that day but the manager has told me exactly what he wants from me on the pitch and I can communicate with most of the players in the dressing room, so that means there are no problems.

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“I speak with my team-mates all the time and I think that’s important because I need to know how they like to play, how they like to use the ball and the kind of runs they want me to make.

“The football here is different. In La Liga it’s more technical, with a lot of passes and a lot of possession, whereas here the speed of the game is much faster and the players are physically stronger.

“You have to be alert because things happen very quickly but I think I am getting used to it and my team-mates have helped me a lot with that.”

Nuno has praised Willian Jose’s attitude – “he’s a wonderful guy, a person who is willing to listen to his team-mates and to us,” he said after the Arsenal game – and hopes he will also serve as a guiding hand to the club’s young players, particularly 18-year-old striker Fabio Silva, who has endured a difficult start to life in England following his £35m arrival from Porto.

“At Real Sociedad, I had an important role with the players who came up from the academy,” says Willian Jose. “I always spoke with them and tried to give them confidence because it’s important for the young players who come into the first-team to feel that the senior players trust them.

“When you show trust, for sure things will work out well. You have to have patience as well because it doesn’t always happen that young players get promoted and everything immediately goes well. You have to give them time and trust and that’s how I’ll try to help with the young players here too.”

Wolves ended an eight-game winless run against Arsenal
Image: Wolves ended an eight-game winless run against Arsenal

Willian Jose certainly benefitted from time and trust at Real Sociedad, reaching double figures for goals in each of his full seasons with the club, but he did not get the same luxury during the run of loan spells that preceded his move there.

“That was a very difficult period for me because changes don’t help much when you are a footballer. A footballer needs time; he needs to win the confidence of his team-mates and his coach and it isn’t easy to do that when you are only ever there for a few months.

“I had a club who organised all that, for me to join different teams, but I could see it wasn’t the best thing for me, to be in one team in one moment and another team in the next moment.

“Stability is very important, not just for footballers but for everyone, and it was only when I joined Real Sociedad that I felt more relaxed about things. I did well for them and the four and a half years I had there were fantastic for me.”

Willian Jose is aware, of course, his stay at Wolves may prove to be another short one but he is determined to seize his opportunity and convince the club’s decision-makers to take up their option to sign him permanently at the end of the season.

“I think the opportunity is there to have a future here but it depends on me,” he says. “If I do things well, I could stay here for a long time. Of course it’s not easy, but I am going to keep working and trying to help the team as much as possible so that the next four months are good for me, for my team-mates and for the club.

“After that, we’ll see what happens.”

Watch Wolves vs Leicester live on Sky Sports Premier League HD from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm