Luiz determined to be more than sideshow
David Luiz has spent almost two years at Chelsea playing the joker, but the defender insists it is now time for him to adopt a more grown-up role and lead the club into a new golden era, starting with victory at the Club World Cup.
Luiz has found himself one of the most easily caricatured footballers around, with his zany 'Sideshow Bob' hair and equally cartoonish personality on and off the field. But he admits he has found some of the jibes hard to take, despite maintaining he would not let them break him as a player.
And he insisted he was now ready to fill the void left by the injured John Terry, an absence that coincided with one of Chelsea's worst winless runs in Barclays Premier League history. Luiz said: "I was captain at Benfica at 21. I know my personality is to be a natural leader."
He added: "So I know now that, at this moment, with the team's leaders of many, many years out of the team, I need to take responsibility of the team myself and try and help the young players.
"I don't have a problem with that in bad moments. I always say my shoulders are broad and I can take that extra responsibility. I love it. I want it. I prefer to take it on myself to help the other guys, who can go and play with their heads clear and calm."
Gary Neville described Luiz as playing as though he was being controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation, the most infamous of many criticisms of him. "No one likes criticism," Luiz said. "You ask: 'Why are they saying this? I tried my best, why can't they see I'm trying?' You can have these moments where you're down, but you can't let them last long."
It is hard to think of a more outrageously gifted player than Luiz to have found himself playing at centre-back. When he is good, he would walk into a world XI. When he is bad, he would be kicked out of a pub XI.
The arrival of Rafael Benitez as Chelsea's interim manager appears to have had a real impact on steering Luiz away from the latter and towards the former. "The last four games, I've played really well, at the top level and with confidence," said Luiz, who was "happy" to learn Benitez had described him as world class.
"I need to continue this work and mentality. This is a big club. If I played for a club in the middle of the table, I could make mistakes in games, three or four times, and no one would notice because the analysis is not at the top level.
"But when you play for a big club, they analyse you at the top level. Every little mistake is highlighted. Every day work, work, work. This is the key to football. Because if you don't, other guys work more than you do and they kill you."