'I am ready to lead Blues like Terry'
Published 12/12/2012 | 05:00
On a wing and a prayer, 20,000 Corinthians fans fly in from all corners of the globe for the Fifa Club World Cup here in Japan, dreaming of returning home as champions of the world.
One of their number awaits them, hoping to ambush them. It is Chelsea's charismatic and increasingly influential centre-half David Luiz, a lifelong Corinthians follower and short-term foe.
As a boy growing up in Sao Paulo state, Luiz imagined this moment, this shot at a trophy that South Americans take far more seriously than Europeans.
"When I was young I always talked about this competition, dreaming that one day I would get the chance to play in it, and now I have that opportunity,'' reflected Luiz, whose Chelsea side face Monterrey in tomorrow's semi-final. Corinthians take on Al-Ahly today for a place in Sunday's final.
Oft-lambasted for going walkabout and famously castigated by Sky Sports' Gary Neville as playing as if controlled "by a 10-year-old on PlayStation", Luiz has appeared a more mature, influential presence for Chelsea recently, emerging as a leader.
"This is a big club,'' said Luiz. "Every little mistake is highlighted. Criticism does get to me. You ask: 'Why are they saying this? I tried my best, why can't they see I'm trying?' I can be sad for one or two hours, but the rest of the day I need to be happy because the team needs me to be positive. My brain needs it.
"At a big club when you have bad moments sometimes, you need to be strong. I understand some people criticise. If you can't take that, stay at home and work at another job. I was captain at Benfica at 21. I know my personality is to be a natural leader.
"At this moment, with the team's leaders of many, many years (John Terry and Frank Lampard) out of the team, I need to take responsibility of the team myself and help the young players – like Eden Hazard, a great talent and an amazing player but someone who needs support.
"He's only just arrived in the Premier League, like Oscar. Some of the others are more shy, like Ramires. My shoulders are broad. I can take that extra responsibility. I love it.
"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. I love playing football. If the manager (Rafa Benitez) wants me as a striker, a right-back, a winger, I'll do anything to help the team.
"If a coach came up to me and said he had three goalkeepers injured and no one else available, I'd give it a go.
"I was in a different position against Nordsjaelland (in the Champions League), the manager pushing me upfield a bit (for the last 20 minutes). He said I was one of the top five in terms of my fitness in the team, so I can help the other guys to control the game. I could be box to box."
After Hazard missed a penalty against Nordsjaelland, Luiz took charge.
"Maybe some players might have had 'fail' in their heads but it depends on the player,'' said Luiz, who accepted successfully the challenge from 12 yards.
"It's just another moment to be strong. One day, when I have kids, I'll tell them that, even when their life is not easy, they can still do anything they want.
"I took the one in the Champions League shoot-out when Bayern Munich were leading 2-0. So you can imagine how I felt, how my head was going as I walked up to the ball, looked up and saw all those Bayern fans shouting at me! But I had confidence in what I'd done in training and I did well.
"I train hard to do that because it can be an important moment in a game.
"Look at Lampard: he's scored a lot of penalties to win matches over the last few years. It's like if you have a test and you study hard beforehand, you're confident when you go into the exam."
Chelsea bowed out of the Champions League against Nordsjaelland, heaping extra significance on the Club World Cup. "This competition comes at a great moment for us,'' continued Luiz.
"Everybody knows Chelsea are a big club. We need to win trophies every year and always win the big games. If you're not disappointed at going out in the group stage (of the Champions League), you don't deserve to wear the shirt. But the other teams worked hard, Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk deserved to go through."
The 25-year-old can keep Europe's blue flag flying, although his Corinthians friends like Paulinho, Douglas, Cassio, Fabio Santos and Wallace Reis da Silva stand in their way.
"For us in Brazil this is the last game of the season, like the Champions League final was for Chelsea," he said. "For the fans in Brazil all the build-up means it feels like an early Christmas present. It's an opportunity for the South American teams to prove they can compete with the best in Europe. People dream a lot about this competition. I did, too.''
As a youngster playing alongside Wallace for Vitoria, Luiz could not have envisaged the pair contesting the Club World Cup.
"I'd have laughed! On the PlayStation or in reality? But I always dreamed. In Brazil, if you're born a man, you dream about playing football. I dreamed a lot: about playing for a big club, about playing for Brazil.
"I've been a lucky guy. I have to say thank you to God because I have a great life." (© Daily Telegraph, London)