Anything in the form of a reliable or assured defence has gone out the window at this World Cup. We’re already up on goals from this stage, 14 games, at the last finals in South Africa, 44 compared to 23 four years ago. There has been one draw so far and all the focus is on either attacking master classes from the expected or complete unpredictability and chance. It’s all too fitting for a host nation such as Brazil.
It’s therefore the perfect tournament for David Luiz, at least the image of David Luiz most in England have created over the past three-and-a-half seasons.
The ultimate kamikaze defender in a team known for defensive discipline and a no-nonsense attitude. It’s a little difficult to escape the image of Jose Mourinho barking orders at Luiz from the touchline, the Brazilian, occupying one of the central midfield positions, seemingly needing to be shackled down so as not to go off wandering.
It’s what led to his sale to Paris Saint-Germain this summer, with the Ligue 1club recently confirming their purchase of the Brazil international for £50 million.
Luiz isn’t a bad player. His technique can be awesome at times; his hair gives the game away about exactly what type of character he is on the pitch: completely in love with the idea of adventure.
His belting of the Brazilian national anthem ahead of the host nation’s opening game against Croatia looked so serious that it bordered on the facetious. It wasn’t too unexpected either. For all the wildness of his appearance and style of play, this is a player who knows when the time is right to put aside the erratic play and take the hard line.
For all the criticism he had as a defender for Chelsea in the Premier League – including Gary Neville’s Playstation comment, which was interpreted as criticism – he’s been fantastic for Brazil, partnering Thiago Silva as Luiz Felipe Scolari’s first-choice pair at the heart of the defence. His performances for Brazil at last summer’s Confederations Cup were outstanding, a complete contrast to the image painted of him in England. His goal-line clearance against Spain was impressive, told by the subsequent celebrations from his teammates.
I fail to see any weight in the criticism of Luiz. Scolari knows a thing or two about setting up a good team, having won the World Cup with Brazil and taken Portugal to the final of the European Championship. Barcelona held a long-running interest in Luiz, ending just prior to his move to PSG, and he carved out a good reputation for himself while playing for Benfica. They can’t all be wrong.
What it ultimately came down to was an imperfect relationship between a player and a team or coach’s ideals and principles. David Luiz never looked a Chelsea defender, which again isn’t to say he ever looked bad. For Brazil, he’ll still go charging forward, but as we saw in their opener against Croatia, Thiago Silva is all too happy to see him bomb forward with two very attack-minded full-backs, while Luiz Gustavo will drop into the backline whenever it becomes short of numbers.
Chelsea under Jose Mourinho had very little tolerance for that. It wasn’t until Nemanja Matic arrived during the January window that Chelsea’s midfield really looked the part defensively, but even then Mourinho wouldn’t indulge Luiz, who simply can’t be helped when the opportunity arises to roam forward.
But who doesn’t want that? How many players in the modern game can get away with being one-dimensional? Luiz can play both ends of the pitch and he’s an obvious asset to have from free kick situations.
Brazil’s hugely successful partnership of Luiz and Silva offers a good indication about what kind of player the former Chelsea defender needs alongside him. Silva is at the opposite end of the scale in terms of player. He’s the perfect partner for a player who can have lapses in concentration or simply be caught too far up field. But it’s on coaches to find that winning partnership, something Mourinho wasn’t prepared to do.
Players like Luiz are a joy to have in football. While in the Premier League, he was a character both on and off the pitch. His use of the word ‘geezer’ was fantastic. So why should we be led to believe that players and characters like that need restraining, that their instincts on the pitch need curbing?
There’s no misunderstanding from Scolari when it comes to Luiz. If the Brazil coach can keep his first-choice centre-backs fit, they’ll play as much, if not more, of a role in the host nation reaching the final than Neymar will at the other end of the pitch.