Willian's exit from Corinthians due to threats, online abuse should be a lesson for Brazilian football

After an admittedly disappointing spell with Arsenal, Brazilian winger Willian had a romantic idea of going back home and joining Corinthians, the Sao Paulo club where he developed before heading to Europe in 2007. His time back home was not an unmitigated disaster on the field. He probably expected to score more than one goal. Injuries did not help. But he had his moments and Corinthians, while never brilliant, have at least been solid.

But it is all over. Willian had a contract until the end of next year. But last week he ripped it up. He will not be back, he said. Not with Corinthians, or with any other club in his native country. He hopes to return to London, where he has been linked with Fulham.

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The priority, though, is to find a new club outside of Brazil -- and the sincerity with which he is dealing with the subject is both entirely positive and a warning to Brazilian football.

"I'm leaving because of the threats that I and mainly my family suffered," he told Globo Esporte last week. "The threats never stopped. Whenever Corinthians lost, and if I hadn't played well, my family would receive threats and curses on social media. It happened to my wife, my daughter, and after a while they started attacking my father and my sister.

"I didn't come to Brazil to be threatened or to have my family threatened. It caused a big impact and a mental cost, especially on my daughters."

He was by no means the only player in his team to suffer this kind of treatment. But in his case there is an important difference. He was away for 15 years. Coming back quickly for holidays is one thing. Returning to play for a big fclub like Corinthians is quite another.

The country he left in 2007 is not the one he went home to in 2022. While he was making his name at European clubs Shakhtar Donetsk, Chelsea and Arsenal, social media was making its presence felt.

The problem here is the space and the impact that social media gives to certain fans who mistake online abuse and criticism for passion. All too often, conventional media also finds its agenda driven by this type of interaction -- the spectacle means nothing, the result is the "be all and end all." The force of passion, its potential dangers ignored, becomes seen as a virtue in itself.

For this reason, one of Willian's observations is especially important.

"The situation is becoming normalised," he said, "and agressions are being romanticised."

An absence of a decade and a half gave Willian perspective. Threats and aggressions were unacceptable, and in his time with Corinthians he would go down to the police station to register complaints. But like frogs slowly being boiled in water, too many in Brazilian football have become accustomed to the rising temperature in which the game is being played and watched, and excesses of anger have come to be seen as unremarkable expressions of the passion that keeps the circus on the road.

And it is not just words. Teams are being attacked by fans on the way to the stadium, including by their own supporters. They are being attacked by their own fans at airports after flying back from a disappointing game. They are being attacked by their own fans at the training ground.

Willian has been watching this, and so have his family, with growing levels of concern. It has come as a shock, and not one that he wants to experience any longer. His decision to leave has been proved entirely correct by subsequent events.

Corinthians president Duilio Monteiro Alves responded by commenting that Willian had failed to adapt -- as if it should be entirely normal for a player to work under conditions where he is being threatened in the course of his labours. And Corinthians fans chanted insults at him when they gathered for Saturday's big derby against Palmeiras.

Willian is voting with his feet. This chapter of his life is closed. He has made his contribution. It is now up to those in Brazilian football to heed the warning and make a stand for basic, decent behaviour.

Plenty of interesting things are happening. The terms of trade in the global market have changed in ways that make it easier for big Brazilian clubs to construct and maintain squads of depth and quality, capable of raising the level of the domestic game. This is under threat from a nihilistic anger, the rotten fruit of misplaced passion and the belief that the result is the only thing that matters.

Brazilian football has lost Willian. But if it can pay attention to what he is saying, then there is plenty to gain.