It’s very rare indeed to see a defender playing football with a smile on his face. As a breed, the boys in the back four are a miserable bunch of scowling b*****s. They were brought up to stop others playing and prevent crowds from being entertained. Their mission is to wreck and to ruin – and they take their responsibilities seriously. Defenders are, generally speaking, thoroughly resentful of strikers, referring to us as ”glory hunters”. Which is why Chelsea’s David Luiz is such an eye-catching footballer.
You can tell from his crazy curly hairdo that this is no normal muck-and-nettles defender. I’ve rarely seen a centre-half so keen to surge forward and score goals – or so slapdash at the back. You have to wonder whether Luiz will end up playing in midfield because his instincts always seem to be attacking. On his first appearance of the season, against Bayer Leverkusen the other night, Luiz broke the deadlock by scoring a beauty. And last week’s opponents Manchester United will certainly remember a lot about him from their two Premier League meetings towards the end of last season.
At Stamford Bridge in March, Luiz netted a wonderful goal but also enraged Sir Alex Ferguson with a challenge on Wayne Rooney which should have earned him a red card. Then, when United virtually secured the title by beating Chelsea at Old Trafford in May, Luiz was guilty of a shocking blunder to gift the opening goal and was substituted at half time. Andre Villas-Boas faces a real dilemma over where Luiz should play.
Luiz has scored three times in just 12 games – a far better return than Fernando Torres, who signed the very same day. At this rate he’ll soon catch Chelsea legend Ron Harris, who scored 13 times in 795 games… but knew a bit more about the black arts.
The upbringing of a defender from the Copacabana is, of course, very different to our own. While the Brazilians have had their fair share of proper hard cases, their defenders are usually excellent on the ball. Luiz will have grown up watching videos of one of the greatest goals of all time – Brazil’s fourth in the 1970 World Cup final, which was brilliantly executed by full-back Carlos Alberto. Still, I fancy we’ll see Luiz playing in a more advanced role in time.
And don’t forget that Geoff Hurst and Denis Law both began their careers as defensive-minded half-backs, so players can always evolve. I’ll never forget Spurs signing dear old Lawrie Brown from Arsenal in 1964, a surprising transfer which left us wondering whether our manager Bill Nicholson had foregone his life-long abstinence from alcohol. Lawrie, certainly not a man who lacked confidence, told us all: “I can play centre-half or centre-forward, equally well.” And it didn’t take long for the rest of us to find out that he couldn’t play in either role.