Renaissance man

15 Aug

Anyone who has been intimate with Ulrika Johnson knows that life can be a bit of a revolving door at times. Football is no different and, like ships in the night, as sure as one player arrives, another leaves. Sadly, for English viewers at least, Brazil 2014 was a chance to say something of a farewell to David Luiz, who has been brightening up our screens for the last four years but will join up with Paris Saint-Germain now the tournament is over. French football must be pretty excited to be taking receipt of someone who is not so much a footballer as he is a theoretical deconstruction of what it means to be “everything”.

Half a century after Total Football was pioneered, David Luiz has managed to squeeze the concept into ten less shirts than the Dutch required. Like a Swiss Army Knife or a ladyboy, Luiz contains everything you could possibly wish for. He’s Jaap Staam with a step over. A false nine in John Terry’s body. We’ve had ball-playing defenders before, for sure, but this is so much more. True genius doesn’t find a position; it creates one. David Luiz is the world’s first box-to-box centre back.

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Polymaths are hard to come by but football has found its Copernicus. Will Smith might have rapped, acted and performed stand-up comedy. But could the Fresh Prince plausibly play on the right-wing at a pinch? Not if his Bel-Air mansion depended on it. David Luiz could play there. Hell, David Luiz would probably prefer to play there.

Thiago Silva is one of the stand-out defenders of his generation, and it is a testimony to how unflappable he is that he manages to stay calm while having literally no fucking clue where Luiz is at any given moment. A look of calm bemusement sits on Silva’s face as Luiz’s bouncing blonde curls go haring into the final third. He’ll be back in the next quarter of an hour or so. Silva is probably just relieved that Luiz is restraining himself to footballing activities, and not extending his duties to further include crowd stewarding, commentary and selling programmes outside the stadium.

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Heaven only knows what Mourinho made of Luiz. You can pretty well imagine Jose’s hang dog expression when he first turned up to training to find his centre-back wearing the number 10 bib and working on his finishing. Mourinho, famously, is a man not short of humour. But married to the laughter is the sort of cold-blooded pragmatism that would draw blushes from a late-forties divorcee. The fact that Mourinho drools over a personality-defunct Slavic cyborg, in Branislav Ivanovic, while simultaneously despairing of the free-wheeling Brazilian Banter Bus shows the depths of Jose’s inner conflict on the matter. In Mourinho’s eyes, Luiz is a neknomination guised as a centre-back; beautiful, appalling, (above all) risky.

It is rumoured that no-one at Stamford Bridge has told Mourinho that Nemanja Matic is actually in his second spell at Stamford Bridge, having been initially used as a makeweight in the David Luiz purchase. Matic is a futuristic Mourinho wet dream, where Dr Jose has spliced all the best characteristics of his favourite Chelsea players to form an über-footballer. While Mourinho probably does actually know deep down that Matic was discarded plus cash in order to obtain the services of Luiz, it is thought that explicitly addressing the subject might damage an important coping mechanism that Jose has constructed. Either way, the Chelsea backroom staff aren’t taking any chances.

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And Jose isn’t the only one with reservations, either.   John Terry almost certainly regards Luiz as the product of what might have happened if Tony Benn had gotten into power. Wistful glances are made in the direction of Ashley Cole’s air rifle every time Luiz leaves the Chelsea rearguard so wantonly understaffed.   Big John cut his teeth working with serious men like Marcel Desailly and Ricardo Carvalho. Handing him David Luiz as a playing partner was akin to giving Jeremy Paxman a Tamogatchi.

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Yet, despite all of this, Laurent Blanc, one of the finest defenders of the past twenty five years, has just parted with fifty million pounds to bring David Luiz to the Parc des Princes. Luiz is now, by some yardage, the most expensive defender in the history of football.

Many people surmise that Blanc must have been at the vin rouge when he made this decision. And, of course, we’re all entitled to our own opinion on the merits of the outlay. But the fact of the matter remains that, unless you played in the AC Milan back four during the early 90’s, chances are Laurent Blanc knows more about defending than you do. So what has Blanc seen?

Well, for all the opprobrious column inches aimed at Luiz, the Brazilian’s career has nevertheless been an impressive one thus far. One of Di Matteo’s Dreamers that stretched credibility in 2012, Luiz added a Europa League trophy to his collection the following year and was two games away from a World Cup winner’s medal before the Germans left his team bloodied and horizontal in Belo Horizonte. As trite as it now sounds, Luiz had had an excellent tournament up until that point. While much was made of Brazil’s ersatz forward line, their defence had been uncompromising; conceding a miserly four goals in the first five fixtures (two of which had gone the full 120 minutes). Luiz was one of Brazil’s star performers – not only solid defensively but also chipping in with two goals and making a number of trademark surges upfield. True to form, he had been one of Brazil’s best defenders, midfielders and attackers.

Even at 27, few would argue that there is still considerable untapped potential to be realised in Luiz. Is Blanc prospecting? Maybe the wily old Frenchman sees a rare mineral twinkling in the ore; a defender unmatched in talent who is but a concentration span away from greatness. And if anyone is going to flush out Luiz’s occasional defensive narcolepsy, Blanc is the man for the task.

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Even if it doesn’t work out, I’ll still have an unshakeable fondness for David Luiz. From Henry Ford’s Model T motor car to the division of labour in pin manufacturing, via Claude Makelele, the past 200 years has been a thunderous sprint towards specialisation. Railing against this, Luiz represents a one-man battle against homogeny. For that reason alone he should be celebrated. Refusing easy definition, Luiz takes to the stage knowing that anything is possible. When it goes well, he looks like Beckenbauer on acid. When it goes bad, well, when it goes bad it’s best not to ask; but suffice to say that seven-goal annihilations in World Cup semi-finals are not out of the question. However, like an adorable puppy that’s just wet the bed, it’s difficult not to like Luiz even when things aren’t going his way.

Luiz’s time in the UK has come and gone, at least for now. He’s off to Paris, so will presumably add haute cuisine, wine-making and running a competitively priced brothel to his already enormous repertoire. Bon voyage, David! Have a fabulous time on the continent and, I suspect in not alone in saying, please do come back soon.

You can follow Sonny (@_SonnyPike) on Twitter or subscribe to Too Good for the English Game by clicking the “Follow” button on the right-hand side of this page (this button is mysteriously unavailable on the mobile version of the website).

Limited by comparison.

Limited by comparison.

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