Following a return few crystal-ball gazers could have anticipated, what will David Luiz bring to Chelsea? More than just football.
There were few occasions in the Chelsea career of recently departed Marko Marin when the German got to be wheeled out for our quote-hungry press. The sole occasion to which this reporter was party followed a 6-0 League Cup romp over a woeful Wolves – at Stamford Bridge, four years ago this month. Sincere, a little nervous, keen to set a good impression – Marin expressed himself well, in a language in which he was reasonably proficient, for a good seven minutes of taped time.
Well, actually for five of seven recorded minutes: as, for two in the middle, Marin was restrained in an amiable headlock, by a man belting out a folk song in Portuguese. Who could imagine the protagonist here was any other than David Luiz?
For three-and-a-half seasons Luiz, in that particular episode aided and abetted by his countryman Oscar, was the unofficial master of mayhem at Chelsea. Mid-interview pranks and interruptions were his forte: whether barking weird comments into reporters’ recorders as they attempted to relate with straight-faced midfielders, or photo-bombing team-mates in mixed zone TV interviews.
To call him a handful would be to do him a disservice.
Much as his performances on the pitch, and particularly his defending, divided people, so did these antics. To many he was the court jester – lifting the tunnel mood, and acting as unofficial cheerleader for the stands while on the pitch. To others, his constant ‘Hello geezer!’-ing and almost Gazza-esque levels of hyperactivity were more of a distraction.
There are those who worked with him in those early days, when that greeting became his trademark as the sole words he knew in English, who described him as endlessly annoying. Merely trying to ingratiate himself to his new team-mates, in a foreign language and culture, he was nevertheless viewed by some with the disdain with which sardonic cartoon feline Garfield surveys the endless enthusiasm of his canine pal Odie.
But, regardless of the eye rolling of some, the way in which his presence lifted the dressing room was palpable to anyone stalking the tunnel area after any game. It was that relentless positivity, so lacking around Chelsea last season, which helped lift the club to its greatest ever achievements: back-to-back European trophies in 2012 and 2013.
It was in Munich, following the very greatest of those nights, that the respect for his efforts – both on and off the pitch – was clear, as Luiz again played his party piece intervention in a mixed zone. Goodwill was flowing, as was the alcohol. When Frank Lampard came out to give his interview, clutching a bottle of the sponsors’ brew, it was clear from his swagger that it was not his first.
Far more sober, in more ways than one, was Didier Drogba. Very much the elder statesmen here, always speaking in a measured way with gravitas, he recounted the events of the greatest night in his and his club’s existence. Enter the madcap Luiz – by now proficient in English to an almost native standard. No grappling headlocks here: not just because Drogba’s physical size and strength would have made it an impossibility; but also in recognition of the fact that this was the alpha male of the bunch, to be respected, not wrestled.
It could easily be imagined that the wise Ivorian, as at home in international politics as in scoring yet another from the spot, might be one of those with less time for the fool of the court. Luiz offered a half-hug, a tongue stuck out, a little kiss. And then a show of respect from the man who scored that winning penalty: “This man normally should not have been playing. He was unfit and look at the game he did.”
Luiz, in interviews since, has spoken of the scars he still bears from taking on Bayern that night with a torn hamstring. But he fought through pain, and showed no less character for it: lashing his own penalty with a forcefulness that looked as if it might break the net.
There will be moments during Luiz’s return when Chelsea fans are willed to exclaim at the imperfections in the centre-half’s game – of that you can be sure. But in this transfer, Chelsea have bought more than just a footballer: they have bought a great character. And that is exactly what the club needs most right now.
Source : Eurosport