We all know the man has talent as big as his hair, but that talent simply hasn't always translated to on-field success. His critics are as vocal and numerous as his advocates, making his every selection a chance for further controversy in the ongoing debate. From his debut as an adolescent-controlled computer game figure to his convincing performance in the 2012 Champions League Final, he has always cut an interesting figure on and off the pitch. Yours truly had the opportunity to sit down with the Brazilian to discuss life at Chelsea, his adjustment to the Premier League, and the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.
Despite his proclivity for flair in matches, David Luiz was far less presentational when I met the man in his London flat. The proverbial class clown took his time getting to the door, and resembled a sloth as we journeyed towards his living room upstairs. "You move much faster on the pitch," I told him. "I have to save my energy for the game," he joked in return. In spite of his ultra-casual attire - sweaters and sandals over socks - Luiz's four-floor apartment was a jaw-dropper. Living in the lap of luxury, he employs a rather large household staff for just one man. Three women took to the tasks of cooking, serving, and generally maintaining the household. However, from the first moment, it was evident that to Luiz, these were not just employees; they were family.
"Family is the most important thing in the world to me," he said, hugging one of the women close. The affection is clearly genuine and mutual. How can one not love this big, charming Brazilian? He shows me the computer from which he regularly calls home to Brazil, keeping in touch with family and friends there. When I ask if they visit often, he shrugs and smiles, "why do you think I have so many rooms?" It's true; the entire second floor is filled with cozy guest bedrooms, space for a dozen visitors at once, maybe more. On another floor, he shows me the arcade games that his friends, including fellow Chelsea player, Oscar, frequently stop by to enjoy.
How can one not love this big, charming Brazilian?
Does he ever cease his social activity for training? "I think here you have more freedom. In England, they ask you to do many things and you have a schedule, but you are able to do this on your own so much. In Brazil, or in Portugal, you must do things with the team always, always supervised or directed, but here you can take care of yourself in your own way and they trust you to be a professional." I wonder if this has changed with Mourinho in charge. "Yes and no," he tells me, "He is not a babysitter, and he does not come home with you, but if you show up to training and you are not 100% or better than the last time, then you don't play."
At this, Luiz insists he can show me what he means. I follow him to the fridge, where he removes a delicious looking flan and packages it up. From there, we proceed to his car, which takes about 20 minutes to reach Chelsea's training facility at Cobham, speeding heavily the majority of the way, but only in light traffic. There is an air of recklessness in this that is hard to reconcile with his aura of compassion and general goodwill to all of humanity. This strange paradox is the trademark of the Brazilian. Nevertheless, we arrive at the complex (truly a complex) and head inside to meet some of the Chelsea training staff - mostly whoever has hung around to finish up work or get in some last minute preparation. Frank Lampard is out on one of the pitches working on free kicks (albeit also playing a bit with his daughters).
Luiz is bustling through the halls until finally he finds a suitable candidate: Chris Jones, one of the Chelsea fitness coaches. In a dramatically innocent tone he calls out, "Jonesy, Jonesy, come here. Can I go out and run laps around the pitches?" The man cocks his head, not sure where this is headed, "Yes, David."
"Can I stay here and eat this flan instead?" Luiz whips the box out from behind his back.
Jones laughs, catching on now. "Sure you can, David."
"Can I do both?"
Luiz eyes the box and then the two of us, cracking his jester's grin. "If I am going to do both, I will need help with the eating." The bizarre demonstration has proven his point, but driven home something far more interesting about the player and the lengths he'll go to for a joke. So, over flan, I ask about the atmosphere in the dressing room and around the club, whether its conducive to his kind of devil-may-care attitude. "There is always work to be done, and Jose knows this. But, if we are doing the work, we can have fun and sometimes he is the biggest joker in the whole place." Clearly, he appreciates the Portuguese's laidback managerial style.
Back before the Special One's arrival, Luiz was asked about his preferred position on the pitch. He had this to say:
"I'm a central defender, and that's the position I feel most comfortable in, but I'd play in goal or up front if I had to. I can only be grateful for having the privilege to do a job I love." - ESPN, December 2010
Chelsea have won all four matches when Luiz has started in midfield. Moreover, they've done so decisively.
With Englishmen Gary Cahill and John Terry forming such a strong partnership in Chelsea's back four, I wonder if the Brazilian's opinions on the matter have changed. Though the topic is a difficult one, I point Luiz to some statistics from his time with Chelsea this season. Excluding the Super Cup early in the season, Luiz started in 64% of Chelsea's wins, 50% of draws, and 71% of losses. The statistics are somewhat damning, but that breakdown looks much better when he starts in midfield. In fact, Chelsea have won all four matches when that has been the case (and that’s excluding the win against Swindon, where he played half and half). Moreover, they've done so decisively. A resounding victory away at the Etihad was preceded by the merciless poundings on Manchester United and Hull City, and the careful dissection of Liverpool. It was against the latter that Luiz could be credited with starting the moves for both goals.
With Luiz at CB, Chelsea have earned 29 points from 16 games (48 points possible); that’s 60% of possible points, as opposed to 100% with him starting in the center of the park. Having been presented with this information, the player leaned forward to contemplate the raw data. "This is football, and it is hard to see all of the game in just numbers." I have to concede that point, but I sense a willingness to pursue the thought in the Brazilian, so I pause, waiting for him to fill the silence. "It's true I am more comfortable at the back, because everything happens in front of me, and I can see everything to stop it or change the direction. This season with Mourinho I play more forward sometimes and that has been very good, as you say. I like to make the long passes, and they are easier from this position sometimes. I say before- I am happy to play football, and to play for a great team like Chelsea. I would be happy if I had to put on Petr's gloves and play in goal, or take Fernando's place and play up front." This humility and servant's attitude springs from his religion, according to the player himself.
- via images.football365.com
"I am a player for God. I play for Chelsea and I play for Brazil. I play for myself, my family, the fans, and people everywhere, but first I play for God." His goofy demeanor has vanished and in its place: a serious face with serious words. "If I did not have God, I would have nothing."
This attitude is carried into his play for the national team as well. "Many of us share this feeling," he says, "and we feel very blessed to have the opportunity to play for the best in the world in our home country." When I prodded about whether he was concerned about getting enough playing time to secure a place in the starting XI, he waves away my question. "I play. I play a lot. If the manager does not select me, I just have to work hard and try to play the next match. After that, it is in God's hands."
This humble sentiment is heartfelt and it has often informed the way he interacts with fellow players. The incident with Rafael's red card has been cleared up as a reaction to United fans jeering at the Chelsea professional, likening him to a cartoon character. Just weeks before, Luiz had publicly forgiven Sergio Aguero's "five seconds angry" challenge, and graciously accepted the unpunished man's apology. He's come out to support youngsters spending time on school and outdoor play rather than computer games and television. In short, he takes his inevitable role as a model for youths very seriously, and should be commended for that.
However, is his play to be commended? No one can doubt that he has talent, and that he produces entertaining football, but unless he can lock down a place in Chelsea's midfield, one has to wonder if his future lies elsewhere. Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain are likely suitors, and Mourinho has already shown with Mata that raw talent isn't enough to merit a place in his side. Consider this writer to be sufficiently enamoured. Wherever he goes (or stays), I can only wish him the best of luck.