Sport Soccer

Monday 11 December 2017

Redemption complete for Luiz as he has last laugh on his critics

Chelsea's David Luiz battle for the ball with West Brom's Salomon Rondon. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters
Chelsea's David Luiz battle for the ball with West Brom's Salomon Rondon. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters

Jason Burt

It is said that the mistake Paris Saint-Germain made last summer was not allowing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to leave on a free transfer but agreeing to the deadline-day sale of David Luiz back to Chelsea.

That did not feel the story at the time - it was a stunningly unexpected move - but from then to now Luiz has been a revelation. He is now a Premier League champion. Luiz has been the key component of the team's switch to a back-three; the larger-than-life unsung hero, at times. The man who has made it work; who has turned John Terry into his understudy.

No-one doubts Luiz's ability or force of personality and it was the former that tempted Chelsea to take him back, for £34 million, even though he was then 29, and the latter which made sure that the move would happen.

Luiz felt he was being edged out at PSG, likely to make way for younger players, such as fellow Brazilian Marquinhos, and just wanted to play, wanted to be integral to the club he joined and also felt motivated by a desire - maybe - to prove he was not just a better player than the one who had left Chelsea in 2014 but one who was determined to ram the ridicule he faced back down the critics' throats.

The Gary Neville 'PlayStation' jibe, later retracted as the pundit said he had proved him wrong, hurt and angered Luiz and coloured his view of the British media. Luiz may be someone almost serially disposed to pulling a funny face and sticking his tongue out when confronted with a camera but he is a forceful figure in the dressing room. Few mess with Luiz.

He has imposed himself. He has also stripped down his game to an extent that less is more. So comfortable in possession he has, in the past, felt compelled to try and drive Chelsea forward, often leading to doing too much, a lack of discipline and mistakes.

But this Chelsea is different. Such is its structure and organisation under Antonio Conte, and the creativity ahead of Luiz, that he does not need to do it. So, as has so often happened this season, it is his job to be the pivot in the defensive base. He is the deepest-lying of the trio with Cesar Azpilicueta, in particular, charged with joining the attack and Gary Cahill doing so also far more than Luiz.

The uncomplicated manner of Luiz's play does not mean he is unable to show his skill and it is that ability to break down the opposition's attacks and quickly recycle the ball that helps Chelsea counter-attack so effectively.

dominant When he arrived in English football in January 2010 Luiz boarded a private plane from Portugal early evening and just made it in time. He felt he had to prove himself in a team where Terry and the 'old guard' were still dominant and it was beginning to unravel for the then manager Carlo Ancelotti.

Nevertheless, Ancelotti had faith in him and even privately suggested that, one day, he could turn Luiz into the best defender in the world once he had ironed out some of the recklessness from his play. Conte has taken a different approach: play the position; simplify it.

Maturity has made the difference, although those who criticise Luiz - he was vilified only this season after a poor performance for PSG away to Monaco which effectively ended his career in French football - forgot that he delivered some powerful performances for Chelsea during his first spell. Not least in helping them win the Champions League in 2012.

He was almost caught out in the opening minute last night against West Brom with Salomon Rondon beating him to a header forcing Thibaut Courtois to tip the ball over the crossbar.

Later on, Rondon undid Luiz, a rare rash mistake, with the striker's shot deflected over. Luiz got lucky there and it seemed Chelsea's nerves and West Brom's resilience would deny them until Michy Batshuayi's late goal which vindicated another bold Conte decision: to substitute Eden Hazard.

The manager has got the calls right. Luiz led the celebrations and Chelsea were champions again. It has been some comeback by them and Luiz. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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