Arriving at Stamford Bridge in January 2011 in a deal reported to be worth approximately £21.5 million, David Luiz has managed to delight and frustrate in fairly equal measures as successive Chelsea managers have struggled to consistently place him in their sides.
Named as Portuguese Liga Player of the Year for his performances in the 2009-10 season, Luiz played an integral role in the defence of a Benfica side that won a record 32nd Primeira Liga title. It was this form that likely prompted Carlo Ancelotti to make such a substantial investment, alongside the now infamous transfer of Fernando Torres, in a bid to improve the fortunes of his struggling Chelsea side.
Like many foreign players making the transition to the Premier League, Luiz endured a tricky start to his career in England following his mid-season transfer. Goals against Manchester United and Manchester City failed to disguise a number of high profile defensive errors, some calamitous. An unfortunate stigma developed around the player which has only recently begun to dissipate in the light of more assured performances.
Since joining Chelsea, Luiz’s reputation as a reliable defender may have been significantly tarnished but this hasn’t affected his selection for the Brazilian national team. A favourite of previous manager Mano Menezes, Luiz has managed to retain his place alongside Thiago Silva at the heart of defence under Luiz Felipe Scolari. Having now captained the side on several occasions, Chelsea’s defender played an integral role in his country’s success in the Confederations Cup, most notably with a goal line clearance in the final against Spain.
Despite this prominent role for his country, Luiz has never looked completely settled in a central defensive berth during his time at Stamford Bridge. Likely due at least in part to the pace and style of English football, the Brazilian has been unable to definitively establish himself in this position at the club under any of his four managers. The focus on possession in international football combined with the slower and more measured approach evidently serves Luiz better.
Television pundits are nearly unanimous in their views upon the matter. Alan Hansen on Match of the Day, the apparent purveyor of all things defending, has been particularly vocal in his criticism of the Brazilian. The pundit has frequently labelled Luiz as ‘embarrassing’ or ‘farcical’ and has incurred the wrath of several Chelsea managers for the strength of his condemnations. A lack of concentration and positional discipline has often been cited as fundamental weaknesses in the defender’s game.
This national scepticism over the player’s defensive capabilities hasn’t stopped Luiz from becoming a favourite at Stamford Bridge. With a penchant for the spectacular and a Sideshow Bob haircut, the player has earned himself a strong following amongst the club’s fanbase.
Having now played in England for over three years now though, it should be perfectly clear that Luiz’s best role for Chelsea is not in central defence. With the same deficiencies being ruthlessly exposed time and time again, these weaknesses can no longer be attributed to teething problems following the transition to English football. The error which gifted Jordan Mutch the opener in the fixture against Cardiff earlier this season perfectly encapsulates these flaws.
On the occasions in which Luiz has been deployed in a defensive midfield role, he has more often than not earned rave reviews for his performances. In his first outing in the role for the club, he earned the Man of the Match award the 8-0 humiliation of Aston Villa in December 2012.
More recently, Luiz was part of a midfield trio that Jose Mourinho deployed to successfully stifle a rampant Manchester City side at the Etihad in the 1-0 victory. Alongside Nemanja Matic and Ramires, the Brazilian was part of a central midfield that overwhelmed Yaya Toure and Martín Demichelis.
Having confidence in possession and a desire to control proceedings, Luiz possesses the attributes and mentality to succeed as a defensive midfielder. Restricted by a role in central defence, the Brazilian has already demonstrated that he has the combative edge to complement his technical flair. By moving him slightly further forward, Chelsea may also benefit more from his ability to find the target from long range.
In the aftermath of the mistake against Cardiff, Mourinho outlined his long term intentions for Luiz to provide stability for his team from central defence. However, such a desire is overlooking the compelling evidence from the previous campaigns which suggests otherwise. Mourinho’s view is almost comparable to former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp’s insistence that Gareth Bale’s future was as a left back.
David Luiz is best as a defensive midfielder in the Premier League and it would be beneficial to all parties if one of his managers could finally accept this.