Tuesday 12 November 2019

Opinion: David Luiz is a great defender and leader who deserves to be in Fifa's team of the year

Carlo Ancelotti and 23,000 footballers are considerably better judges than Twitter trolls

David Luiz is the world's most expensive defender
David Luiz is the world's most expensive defender

Jason Burt

David Luiz is the Sideshow Bob of football; the PlayStation player who lacks any discipline – whether it is careering around a pitch or blubbing uncontrollably before the World Cup semi-final which Brazil then lost 7-1. Or so the criticism goes.

The inclusion of Luiz in the Fifa team of the year – alongside Spain’s Sergio Ramos in the centre of defence – crashed the official website and sent Twitter into a typically vitriolic meltdown. “Is this a joke?” was the general theme.

Well, Luiz is a joker. A lively, distinctive character with a lively distinctive appearance - and a lively, distinctive style. He is prone to errors just as he is capable of moments of incredibly dynamic football, technical ability, skill and great leadership. Ask Oscar and Ramires and Willian at Chelsea want they think of him.

His wretched performance – in a wretched team performance and an even more desperate display of coaching by Luiz Felipe Scolari who, frankly, lost the plot – against Germany followed on from a man-of-the-match appearance with an outstanding goal against Colombia in the quarter-final.

The team of the year was selected by players, not fans or journalists, with 23,383 from 58 countries – according FifPro – casting their votes. So Luiz’s peers clearly rate him. Or are they simply easily duped?

If they are, they are not the only ones. Carlo Ancelotti is one of the most highly-regarded coaches in world football; maybe even the most highly-rated. He brought home La Decima – a 10th European Cup – for Real Madrid last May. On that day it was confirmed that Luiz was being sold by Chelsea for £48m – a world-record fee for a defender.

Ancelotti was also involved in the Fifa ceremony on Monday – he was on the shortlist for coach of the year – and his opinion is worth considering. It was the Italian, not Roman Abramovich, who wanted Chelsea to sign Luiz in Jan 2011.

Luiz was his pick, to the extent that he told Abramovich if there was one player he wanted that transfer window it was the Brazilian and not Fernando Torres. In the event Chelsea fans may regard both deals as bad pieces of business – especially as Nemanja Matic was the makeweight in Luiz’s £25m move from Benfica.

Ancelotti wanted eventually to play Luiz in midfield – which is where Rafa Benitez deployed him and where he featured for Chelsea under Jose Mourinho in the Champions League.

Luiz sees himself as a centre-half – and played, brilliantly, there for Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League Final. He also played brilliantly there for Brazil up until that semi-final. He has struggled at Paris Saint-Germain this season. His lack of consistency seems to be his greatest flaw partly because he is a player who feels he has to impact on games.

But at his best Luiz is among the best and evidently that is a view shared by his fellow professionals. Which great central defenders did he edge out of the team? Germany’s Mats Hummels would be the obvious choice and there is a case to be made for him ahead of Luiz.

But even among Hummels' supporters, Luiz ought not be too far behind. Even after his semi-final disaster, a game that took him out of the World Cup team of the tournament, he still rated the 13th best player at the tournament according to the statistics and data compiled.

It may not be the most convincing piece of evidence but neither is Luiz some kind of comic liability.


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