Luiz's character, popularity at Chelsea could lead to captaincy
In an interview, David Luiz is asked an English question not knowing the language
Gary Neville said Luiz plays as he's "controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation"
Luiz is a key figure for first-place Chelsea and could succeed John Terry as captain
The interview has already become a cult classic among Chelsea fans, and goes some way to explaining why David Luiz is so popular at the club. It's April 23, 2011, and Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres, for the first time in a Chelsea shirt, have scored in the Blues' 3-0 win over West Ham United. After the game, Luiz joins the two players for a chat with the club's official TV station.
The questions are bland, the answers even more so, but Luiz makes it hilarious. He smiles and nods at every answer, prodding Lampard into a reaction of his own when Torres says, "I felt the love of the crowd," and even stroking the side of Lampard's cheek while he's answering a question. Luiz gives a clue about how much he has understood when, after three minutes of forgettable chit-chat, he is asked, "Can Chelsea win the league?" He looks momentarily foxed, then grins and shouts, "Come on Chelsea!"
Eighteen months on, both club and player have come a long way. Chelsea is the reigning European champion. The project of freshening up an aging squad, one that began under Andre Villas-Boas, is bearing fruit. The club is atop the Premier League and unbeaten this season. Luiz, who the previous summer had missed out on a place in Brazil's 23-man World Cup squad, has cut out his mistakes and is a key figure in the Chelsea defense; he is a mentor to the other Brazilians at Chelsea -- Ramires, Oscar and Lucas Piazon -- and last month captained Brazil in its friendly wins over China (8-0) and South Africa (1-0). Luiz can even speak some English now.
"I could not understand a word when I first moved here," he told Brazilian newspaper O Globo earlier this month. "So when I stood next to Lampard for the interview, I had no idea what anyone was saying, but decided to nod my head as though I understood. I'm an extrovert, a joker, and I didn't want to change my character when I moved to England. Yes, it was hard, but I wanted to show that Brazilians are happy people, and this is me."
Luiz was even unfazed when Gary Neville, who was just making a name for himself as a pundit on Sky Sports, described him as playing like "he is controlled by 10-year-old on a PlayStation." Villas-Boas was infuriated, and perpetuated the row by commenting on it, but Luiz shrugged it off in typical style. "Good morning geezers," he tweeted a few days later. "Gary Neville i love u!"
His difficult start at Chelsea was no different to what he endured at former club Benfica: a debut against Paris Saint-Germain, in which a 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 loss thanks to two Luiz howlers. To make things worse, he spent that night in the hospital with a concussion after he was knocked out in the second half. Luiz soon found his feet at Benfica, as he did at Chelsea; he was outstanding when it won the Champions League and scored a huge penalty, Chelsea's first to go in, with his side already 2-0 down in the shootout.
While Chelsea has been winning matches on the pitch, it has been a troubled few weeks off it, as the fallout from the John Terry racial abuse case continues. We should learn this week whether Terry will appeal the four-match ban and £220,000 fine he was handed by an independent FA panel, while teammate Ashley Cole had to quickly apologize after tweeting his disgust at the panel's findings of discrepancies in his version of events. Terry was recently dropped from Chelsea's starting eleven against Stoke, and with 18 months left on his contract (which ensures he remains the highest-paid player at the club), his long-term future at Chelsea is no longer the certainty it once was.
With vice captain Lampard in the final year of his contract, there could soon be a vacancy for Chelsea captain. Petr Cech is next in line, and having a goalkeeper wear the armband has not harmed European and world champion Spain, but were coach Roberto Di Matteo to look for another outfield player, Luiz would be an obvious choice (although normally Cole is after Cech in the pecking order, with Branislav Ivanovic, who is Serbia's captain, next; Gary Cahill or Ryan Bertrand, who has captained England Under-21s, could be candidates in the future).
"I'm a leader, that's my personality," Luiz said. "I'm always trying to help my teammates as I'm a positive person. I'm trying to show what I can be, what I can add not only for the team but for the club. I always try to understand the mystique of a club and how I can represent it on or off the field. I talk about that a lot with Oscar and Ramires. I often say that we are the mirror of our team on and off the pitch."
He sees himself as more than a footballer. "I'm a citizen, too, you know," he said, surprised when someone asked him why he was always so happy. "Why not? I play football for a living. It's a privilege."
But he also has perspective (something that Chelsea's English players have been accused of lacking): he bought his parents a new house with his first professional pay packet, is funding his sister's studies to become a doctor and has helped Haitians cope with the tragedy of their 2010 earthquake.
"Football has given me the chance to help people who need help," he said. "I have resources, so I help."
Two weeks ago, Luiz, still only 25, signed a new Chelsea contract, one that will take him to 2017. By then, Terry will be 36 and could be long gone from the Bridge. If Luiz does inherit the armband, those post-match interviews might be worth watching again.
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