David Luiz: Is Chelsea's Brazilian Defender Vital or a Vulnerability?
For many reasons which aren't easy to explain, David Luiz has been viewed as something of a comical figure ever since he arrived in English football two years ago.
Maybe it is his appearance. The former Benfica defender sports a look similar to Colombian legend Carlos Valderrama, with his bushy, light brown curls bouncing around as he jogs around the pitch. Some fans even refer to him as "Sideshow Bob," a fictional character from the animated series The Simpsons.
Whether that is for his looks or a general description of his ability is unknown, but if the criticism of Luiz is to be interpreted correctly, one would assume they would be referring to both.
In addition to that, the most controversial critique of all was handed out by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, who slammed Luiz for playing like someone "being controlled by a 10-year-old on a Playstation game."
For all of Neville's knowledge and witty tactical analysis, it was an extremely unprofessional, belittling comment from the former Manchester United right-back. But in fairness, on some levels, it was accurate.
Luiz has endured a mixed period of fortune while at Stamford Bridge since arriving for a fee of £21 million. Although there was no questioning his ability as a defender, he was only 23 years of age when he made the move from Portugal and was far from a finished article.
His full debut in the 0-0 draw against Fulham represented what his Chelsea career has been like to date. The Brazilian had a fantastic game, showing superb awareness at center-back, and his aerial ability was solid throughout.
As a result of his impressive performance, he was named Man of the Match, as the game looked to be heading toward an unlikely stalemate.
However, in the 93rd minute of the game, he foolishly gave away a penalty, bringing down Clint Dempsey and giving Fulham the chance to win the game. And although Petr Cech kept out the American's penalty, it showed that that sort of mistake could be a sign of things to come.
Despite conceding the penalty, his full debut gave some insight into why Chelsea opted to invest such a large amount into a relatively unproven defender. And as the season went on, it began to become more obvious that Luiz could become something of a revelation at Stamford Bridge.
This was reinforced when, just two months after his debut, he scored his first Chelsea goal—an excellent volley—as the Blues triumphed 2-1 over Manchester United. And from there, Luiz became an instant favorite with the fans, building a strong rapport with the West London club's supporters.
What is respectable about Luiz is that he takes his football very seriously. Off the pitch, he may be involved with social media and enjoys playing computer games, but on it, he tends to take the lead. Any doubters can ask Mano Menezes, the former Brazil coach, as to why he named Luiz captain for the senior side in an international friendly.
It was evident for viewers to see his passion for the game when Luiz broke down crying at the final whistle, when Corinthians defeated Chelsea in the FIFA Club World Cup. The competition has always been important in the South American quarters of the world and a player as competitive as Luiz will always strive to win every game, no matter how important it may be to the club.
His lighthearted approach toward life is a lovable characteristic about the former Vitoria defender, but this laid-back method of playing football can put his team in dangerous positions at times.
His confidence in his ability is justified, because he does have the talent to play his way out of danger. After all, he is a Brazilian player, gifted with the famous "samba" style of playing. And let's not forget that eye for a pass he has. But if he hits the off switch, his team instantly enters into danger territory.
It could be a reason why Rafa Benitez experimented in placing Luiz in midfield. His passing and technical abilities are unquestioned, but his tendency to dally on the ball is far less significant in the midfield in comparison to his own half. Unsurprisingly, he was a success in the role.
But if anything, he learnt more about improving his defensive attributes in his new role than in the old one. He became more responsible and quicker on the ball, and after a short experiment in the center of the park, he moved back into defense.
While he has had his spells of uncertainty and poor form, it appears that Luiz, who turns 26 next month, is finally maturing as a player. He has taken up the important role of short distance free-kicks after his wonder goal against Nordsjaelland, and it shows his worth to the team.
And with a large segment of his career still to play, including the 2014 World Cup in his home country next year, there is still time for Luiz to grow at Chelsea. He's already a success with the fans, so perhaps there is still time to be a success with the club.
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