Chelsea‘s David Luiz has always been an opinion-splitting defender. Gary Neville once summarised the debate perfectly during an episode of Monday Night Football, explaining how the Brazilian’s divisive nature was one of different footballing cultures rather than any question over his level of talent.
Indeed, being so confident and inventively direct on the ball yet so ill-disciplined positionally, the argument that Luiz should be considered first and foremost a defensive midfielder in a Premier League context is nothing new. We certainly aren’t too acclimatised with the notion of front-footed, risk-taking defending in the English game.
Many felt the arrival of Jose Mourinho last summer would dispel some of the many conundrums surrounding Chelsea’s defensive maverick. The Portuguese immediately rebuffed reported interest in Luiz from Barcelona, before stating that he’d never use the Brazilian in a midfield capacity.
Yet, one season and 32 outings later, only around half of which have been in his favoured centre-back berth, the floppy-haired South American still poses as many questions as ever. Too lapsed in concentration to be considered a regular at the heart of defence, too wasteful in possession be considered a genuine option in central midfield; where does Luiz actually fit into the Chelsea starting XI?
The long and short of it is that at this moment in time he doesn’t, evident enough through Mourinho issuing the Brazil international just 15 Premier League starts this season. With that in mind and his suitors reportedly prepared to cough up as much as £40million, should the West Londoners look to finally cash-in on Luiz this summer?
A few years ago, the 27 year-old’s ambiguity wouldn’t have been an issue for Chelsea. Roman Abramovich has never sold a player he didn’t want to purely for the sake of financial gain, and of all the acquisitions the Russian Billionaire has made as Stamford Bridge owner, the 2011 £21million swoop for Luiz is believed to be one of his personal favourites.
But the introduction of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play laws has changed the transfer landscape forever. Long gone are the days in which the Blues were allowed to amass as talented a squad as Abramovich’s oil fortunes could afford – now, every acquisition and departure represents a delicate balance of profit and loss to remain in the good books of European football’s governing body, or else face the wrath of penalty fines and transfer embargos.
Chelsea’s first instance of selling stars to make financial room for new recruits came in the January window. Many baulked at Jose Mourinho’s decision to sell Juan Mata to Manchester United, but the record-breaking £37million move – in addition to the £17million sale of Kevin De Bruyne – soon compensated for the arrivals of Nemanja Matic, Mohamed Salah and Kurt Zouma.
Few would argue that the Blues are worse off for it – in fact, nobody in the Chelsea squad personifies the Mourinho ethos better than the 6 foot 4 Serbian midfielder, who has quickly forged a regular place for himself in the Portuguese’s starting line-ups.
In comparison to the Blues’ January departees, Luiz offers far more utility to the Chelsea cause. A phenomenal athlete in terms of height, pace and power, whether the Brazilian is fielded in midfield or defence, he only further adds to Chelsea’s most effective weapon – their immense physicality. It’s served Mourinho particularly well in the big games this season, with Luiz featuring in vital victories over Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and PSG.
Likewise, as the 27 year-old demonstrated on copious occasions last season, his knack for the sublime can often be the difference between victory and defeat. Luiz is yet to score a goal under Mourinho, but still determined enough to find the net, this term averaging 1.6 shots per match, it’s surely just a matter of time before another one of the South American’s worldly strikes dips and swerves it’s way past an opposition goalkeeper.
Combining Luiz’s athleticism, ingenuity on the ball and new-found positional versatility, he’s arguably one of the most useful and talented squad players in world football. In terms of options from the bench, few in Europe would turn their noses at having the multi-purpose Brazilian on the books as a regular substitute.
But as is often the case with David Luiz, that point of view arguably causes more problems than it solves. Bearing in mind the aforementioned stipulations of Financial Fair Play, Chelsea will struggle to justify having such a high-quality cameo performer next season when the freedom of finance his departure would provide could allow the Blues to make several additions that are far better tailored to more specific roles.
Furthermore, with Nemanja Matic arriving in January and quickly emerging as Jose Mourinho’s favoured choice of holding midfielder, in addition to Kurt Zouma also joining Chelsea’s defensive ranks ahead of next season, the chances of the Brazilian enjoying another 32-game campaign across all competitions are incredibly thin. By the time we reach the end of the summer 2014 transfer window, they could be even slimmer.
Don’t get me wrong, David Luiz is a fantastic player; a swift look at his known suitors – PSG, Monaco and Barcelona – is enough evidence of that. But the £40million, which at least two of the three parties are reportedly prepared to pay, is fantastic amount of money, or to put it in more accurate terms – it’s a fantastic amount of money to have the freedom to spend under UEFA’s FFP laws.
Having always represented style over substance, having never made any role at Chelsea truly his own, having never quite fitted into the philosophies of Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafa Benitez or Jose Mourinho, we have surely now reached a point where Luiz is worth more to the Blues in their bid to abide by Financial Fair Play than he is as a player.
That may seem like a rather cut-throat perspective, but that’s the mentality UEFA’s new transfer code has thrust upon us. Cost-effectiveness is now more important than ever before, and unfortunately for David Luiz, he can no longer be considered good value for money whilst foreign clubs are willing to pay Chelsea premium transfer fees for his services.