Frank Lampard has made no secret of his admiration for Willian. "He’s a very important member of the club," the Chelsea manager said of the Brazilian midfielder in November. "“All his teammates love him, he’s a low-maintenance player to have in the squad; so yes I am really happy with him," he said more recently in December.
Yet, as Willian's contract nears its expiration and an impasse remains between club and player, it appears increasingly likely that one of Lampard's most trusted lieutenants could be heading for the Stamford Bridge exit this summer.
The most recent negotiations broke down over Willian's demands for a three-year contract. Chelsea were unwilling to budge on the two-year deal they presented, which in itself was a departure from the club's usual policy of offering players over-30 a one-year extension.
On Saturday, reports in the British media claimed that Willian, 31, has emerged as a key transfer target for both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, creating further uncertainty regarding his Chelsea career.
The Spurs link is clear: manager Jose Mourinho signed Willian for Chelsea in 2013 upon arriving for his second stint in charge at the club, incidentally completing a deal for the Brazilian from under the noses of Tottenham.
Willian was a crucial part of Mourinho's title-winning team in the 2014/15 season, and the Portuguese later tried to sign him while in charge at Manchester United.
Arsenal, meanwhile, will look at Willian's situation as an opportunity to sign an experienced and successful Premier League player on a free transfer, although he is likely to command higher wages should he be available without a transfer fee.
If the interest from Tottenham and Arsenal proves to be official, it leaves Chelsea in something of a predicament.
The Blues have received plenty of praise this season for giving academy players regular games, with the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James, and Fikayo Tomori establishing themselves, while Callum Hudson-Odoi, and most recently Billy Gilmour, have been handed opportunities.
However, there are concerns that the squad lacks experience, particularly if, as expected, Olivier Giroud and Pedro leave at the end of the season. Willian is Chelsea's second-longest serving player behind captain Cesar Azpilicueta and such knowhow is invaluable for an inexperienced squad and manager.
"Experience helps when you have got a young team, when the other options are younger, experience certainly helps," Lampard said of Willian.
But it is beyond the miles on the clock that make Willian an important member of the Chelsea squad. The Brazilian remains the Blues most effective and reliable winger, contributing 13 goals (seven scored, six assists) in 37 games across all competitions, and proved his match-winning qualities with a double in the 2-0 win away at Tottenham in December.
There has been some criticism levelled at Willian during his Chelsea career that he has not consistently delivered on his undeniable talent, while his goalscoring record could be better for a player who can finish.
Meanwhile, the impending arrival of Hakim Ziyech from Ajax will soften the blow if Willian does leave in the summer, but the Morocco international should be viewed as a delayed replacement for Eden Hazard – whom the club were unable to immediately replace due to a transfer ban – instead of a preemptive signing in case Willian leaves.
Additionally, the uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent delays to the league season could also factor in when it comes to players like Willian who have entered the final few months of existing contracts.
However, as things stand, unless there is some flexibility in negotiations, Willian, who attracted interest from Barcelona in January, could be hot-footing over to North London. What could be Chelsea's loss, could be Tottenham's or Arsenal's gain.