Of all the non-Academy players at Chelsea these days, no one’s history goes back further than the nearly 8-year relationship with David Luiz (including a 2-year break). Arriving in January 2011, the now 31-year-old center back continues to defy categorization and expectation, but in the wake of the Old Guard fading away, has perhaps become the most accurate representation of the club in a human form — for better or worse.
That’s the point made by Rory Smith of the New York Times, who connects the ebbs and flows of David Luiz’s career and reputation as a player — not to mention his tendency to attract hot takes and being able to stand out in a crowd — with the ebbs and flows of Chelsea’s ridiculous swings between Premier League titles and palpable crises — not to mention the club’s tendency to attract hot takes (enemies of football! loan armies! killing careers! and so on). Not that David Luiz is the cause of all that, but he embodies this idea of extreme highs followed by (relatively) extreme lows.
“...no player quite encapsulates the baffling volatility of the Premier League’s most enduring 21st-century superpower quite as he does. He is, in the ebbs and flows of his time at Stamford Bridge, the perfect avatar for his team.”
And he’s probably not wrong.
Decided after about half an hour on Saturday that I’m fascinated by David Luiz. Used to be the most expensive defender in the world. Continually being sold or ostracised. A featured cast member of the PL soap opera. A player everyone has an opinion on. https://t.co/K8WZNhCEZb— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) October 1, 2018
David Luiz’s arrival was overshadowed by fellow deadline day signing Fernando Torres, but the former Benfica standout didn’t take long to announce himself. In his first start at Stamford Bridge, against Manchester United, he scored the equalizing goal in an eventual 2-1 victory, and proceeded to celebrate as if it was the greatest moment in all of history.
It was a mistake (or two) against also Manchester United a couple months later that earned him Carlo Ancelotti’s ire and benched him for the remainder of the season — which, in fairness, only had two more games left.
Villas-Boas, like others who’d follow him, raved about David Luiz’s technical abilities and reading of the game, but his tactics also exposed the then 24-year-old’s worst tendencies. It all led to the famous “as if controlled by a 10-year-old [on a] PlayStation” comment from Gary Neville, and it also led to AVB’s sacking.
Neville would eventually reverse his opinion on quite significantly (“from Playstation to perfect”), though not before David Luiz won a Champions League final, excelled as a midfielder, won a Europa League final, was incompatible with and sold by Mourinho (for possibly a world-record price!), became a laughing stock at the 2014 World Cup, came back to Chelsea, and became the best in the world under Conte.
Twelve months later, he was back in the doghouse, injured and ostracized, not necessarily in that order. But he’s kept his head down, continued to be an amazing human being, and now he’s once again crucial to the way Chelsea play. He’s by no means perfect — he will never be — as some of the goals Chelsea have given up can attest to (Newcastle’s equalizer comes to mind), but he also adds that now familiar technical dimension to the backline that is often needed even in Sarri’s perfectly crafted passing nirvana. This is especially the case as Andreas Christensen, whom David mentored throughout last season, seems to have hit a fairly lengthy rough patch.
For Sarri, David Luiz has been nothing short of a revelation.
“He is much better than I thought before. Much better, as a player and a man. I don’t know what happened before, but when I arrived immediately I had a feeling he is a very good player for my way of football as he is a very technical centre-back. I appreciate very much the man as he is direct. If he has to say something to me, he does that.
“He was a little confused as two seasons ago he was a protagonist, but then came six months without playing. So he was a little confused. I think he is very able to play my way with his characteristics. He is very technical and understands the action of the defensive line very much.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Telegraph
Conte made good use of David Luiz by devising a system that mitigated his shortcomings. The back-three ensured that there was always cover for his latest harebrains, and it also put him in position where, if he stayed disciplined, he could use his physical attributes and ability to read the game effectively. But Sarri’s more proactive, more progressive approach may actually be even more fitting.
And perhaps more so than any other coach David “Enjoy the life” Luiz has had at Chelsea, Sarri is on the same wavelength philosophically as well.
“Sarri is giving us a lot of happiness to play football. We are trying to enjoy.
“He gives us a lot of confidence. He shows us what he wants. He gives us the details about the game. He works hard in every situation. And also as a human he’s a fantastic person.
“Every single day he says to us ‘you have the best job in the world, so you have to enjoy’. You have to try to do this with a big smile. Many people in the world don’t have this privilege.”
-David Luiz; source: Chelsea TV via Daily Mail
Those big smiles took a brief break on Saturday when Daniel Sturridge’s wonderstrike ensured a share of the spoils with Liverpool, but that did not (and should not) take away from the quality of David Luiz’s own performance, which has led to plenty of praise from fans and media alike ... and even from our resident curmudgeon at WAGNH Towers.
Is the secret to his success just to enjoy the work, the life, the football? Chelsea’s recent seasons might lend some credence to that idea. And what could be more fun than not only winning but winning while playing enjoyable football?
“We tried to do our best to win the game and we continue to work hard every day. The season is long, it’s just the beginning. Let’s continue to play.”
-David Luiz; Source: Chelsea FC
Let us play, indeed.