Why Chelsea Must Liberate David Luiz and Allow Him to Flourish
Whenever you watch Chelsea in this post-Didier Drogba era, there is one player who always catches the eye. A mixture of irrepressible talent and raging physicality, someone always seemingly playing on the edge. Perhaps erratic brilliance is the best way to describe he of the Sideshow Bob haircut, David Luiz.
The worst of the Brazilian was on show at Old Trafford on Sunday; his feigning of injury after a kick from international colleague Rafael, who had become incensed by Luiz's forcible attempt at shielding possession with a pointed elbow, saw the Manchester United defender sent off as the pantomime villain lay on the ground smiling at his audience.
However, Chelsea supporters tolerate—some even love—these antics from the 25-year-old, because he is unquestionably developing into a magnificent footballer. With John Terry's continued marginalisation at the club, Luiz has been hailed in certain quarters as the next Chelsea captain.
Moreover, should certain reports be believed, that moment could come sooner rather than later if owner Roman Abramovich gets his way (h/t David Kent of the Daily Mail). And as we all know, at Stamford Bridge, Roman always gets his way.
By all means, Luiz is one of the faces of the brave new Blues. Along with playmaker-in-chief Juan Mata, fellow Brazilian Oscar and the fleet-footed Belgian Eden Hazard, he's one of the poster boys, having become a cult figure with fans since his 2010 arrival from Europa League final opponents Benfica.
But there is certainly a question mark concerning from where the Brazilian international should now lead.
Famously described by former Manchester United and England full-back turned television pundit Gary Neville as a "PlayStation player controlled by a 10-year-old," Luiz has developed into a more than reliable defender, capable of doing battle with some of world football's best forwards. (To one degree or another, the likes of Edinson Cavani, Lionel Messi, Mario Gomez and Robin van Persie have all been seen off over the last year or so.)
Aerially dominant, strong, quick and with a good awareness of danger, Luiz seamlessly fits into Chelsea's back line as a centre-half who can play out from the back. He's already a European Cup winner and will likely head to the 2014 World Cup in his home country as one of Brazil's starters in that position also.
Yet here's where the trouble lies. To nominally select Luiz as a player whose main aim over the course of a match is to defend and stop the opposition, is to stifle a man of great effervescence; to negate his natural exuberance and vivacity in favour of a mere stopper.
Furthermore, whilst his physical prowess and commitment to the cause mean Luiz continues to embody a defender of no little quality, there are those who yearn for those shackles to be forever thrown aside, those who wish for a player who is as "must see" as you currently get in the Premier League to be permanently employed in a central midfield role.
Recent displays against Swansea and FC Basel have suggested, that as good a defender as David Luiz is, a great midfielder there could potentially be.
It isn't merely the phenomenal 25-yard curler dispatched with his "wrong" foot that left Basel 'keeper Yann Sommer so nonplussed on Thursday last. Nor is it the 40-yard surges where he takes opposing players out of the game with ease. It isn't even solely about those quintessentially South American no-look passes which deliver the ball on a plate to a well-placed teammate.
It is because this is a player who released from the defensive duties which bind him, has the technical gifts and the mental fortitude to lead a club which desires success. And removing from him such bilboes,could prove to be the best and most decisive step in ensuring a bright and trophy-laden future for Chelsea football club.
With magnificent technical ability, including a dexterity of passing seen in few regista across world football who aren't named Andrea Pirlo, and a physical makeup that allows him to make important contributions at both ends of the field, liberating Luiz could prove a masterstroke.
Frank Lampard's future remains unclear, and the Blues' current lightness in central midfield, highlighted by recent first-team appearances for under-21 skipper Nathan Ake, shows no sign of abating unless they add numbers to that area this summer. But on recent showings in that role, there is no need to sign anyone if the David Luiz experiment becomes an everlasting solution.
Where should David Luiz's long-term positional future be?
There are still bits and pieces he must learn. He'll never be a Claude Makelele clone, of that there can be nothing but certainty. "Safety-first" is unlikely to be in his dictionary.
But as far as box-to-box midfielders, the escapades of Arturo Vidal at Juventus or even his current colleague Lampard would provide a good direction. David Luiz has that level of drive and determination about himself, as well as the technical acumen, to be a standout success.
His relatively few outings in central midfield have already provided a number of highlight-reel moments. Potentially, he could be one of Europe's best, and most complete, midfielders. He doubtless has the capabilities.
First, he just needs liberation.
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