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David Luiz

Mame Biram Diouf

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Telegraph rated him best defender so far this season.


"The second coming of Luiz has been a delight for anyone who likes their defenders with a mixture of ball-playing class, physical strength and more than a hint of something special. Was always a great player apart from the blunders; without wanting to speak too soon, it looks like he has got a handle on the mental side of his game. This is his time. Perhaps Europe's most talented and cultured centre back, he is the key defensive figure for the team that look likely to win the League. What more could you ask for?"

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"Consider the numbers. There are 54 players who have made an error directly leading to a goal this season. Twenty-three are defenders. It is a list that includes England internationals such as Chris Smalling and Nathaniel Clyne. Chelsea's Gary Cahill has made two. John Stones has made three. But the name of Luiz is not to be found among them."

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David Luiz is sitting on a balcony at Chelsea's training ground, talking pollution. Not from his car, or his flights home — although he does worry about that — but pollution as a metaphor for the negativity that surrounds modern life.
Luiz, obviously, isn't the average footballer. For a start, he uses metaphors.
He also isn't average because of the way he looks, the way he plays, and the glow he exudes as he does. Luiz enjoys himself. Luiz enjoys football. He is not afraid to show it, either.  

In a world of scowls and poses, there is true delight in Luiz's game, giant, toothy smiles that are its by- product. Luiz is one of those people who, if someone pokes a camera at him, can't resist sticking his tongue out, or pulling a face.
And for this reason, and perhaps some severe assessments of his first time in England, he is not taken as seriously as he should be, as a player. 
At 30, with more than 500 appearances in club and international football, and on the brink of adding the Premier League title to the five he has won across Brazil, Portugal and France — plus the Champions League with Chelsea — that might be about to change.
N'Golo Kante has cleaned up the individual awards, Eden Hazard is the aesthetes' choice, but it is Luiz at the back who has transformed Chelsea's season. The club took its first step towards a title that will be confirmed with victory at West Bromwich Albion on Friday night, when Antonio Conte switched to his favoured back three after a run of two defeats and a draw. Luiz's presence made that work.
John Terry is his understudy, but Terry could not have sustained this position through the season. Luiz has made it his own. He has refined his game, played with discipline and awareness, shown all of the control it was previously claimed he did not possess. And he has done this with joy. More than any Premier League player, Luiz adds to the gaiety of nations. 

'I think many people enjoy playing football, but they don't want to show that,' he says. 'I'm like this because I remember when I was trying to be like this. I'm like this because I remember when this was my dream.
'I used to joke with my sister, pretending to sign my autograph. "Oh this one is nice, this one is nice." Now I stop the car and people hand me pieces of paper, or they want a photograph. There will be a kid at the training ground, he has one leg. He is talking about playing football, with a big smile, telling me about a goal he scored and I think, "Why am I tired? What is my problem?"
'I think everybody is born pure. You never go to the maternity ward and hold a baby that has bad energy. It's impossible. But after comes the pollution of the world, and that makes people change. The situations, the moments in their life, people do bad things not because they are bad but because they don't have the right support at the right moment.
'If you let the pollution take you, then you start to complain for nothing, for anything. You have to push away the pollution, the negative minds, the negative lies. If you gathered 100 people and asked if they had a problem, you would get told about 100 problems. But if you took one person and showed him all the other people's problems, he would think, "I haven't got a problem". This is the world.
'They teach us to be negative, to complain about nothing. I'm not like this every day. But when I am I think, "Hey, wake up". I start to clean myself, get rid of the pollution. Try to do the right thing. Do I make mistakes? Yes. I go to hospitals, I see people in the beds, I think, "They are better than me". I am feeling pain for nothing. Why?

'But joy is important in life, not just football. Joy is being serious and professional, too. Joy can be reaching your potential by training hard and being disciplined. Joy can be following the rules you need to follow.
'People have the job to judge the footballer. They must have an opinion. That's normal. What is not nice is when they think they know. To say "He played bad" is different from "He is a bad player". You understand? I make a mistake. It does not mean I am a bad person.
'Some people have the pollution and they attack in a negative way. The judges can become crazy, too. In the past people have said I am not focused. It is not nice when you don't have that respect.'
This is what Luiz has been striving for, throughout his career. Respect. The 'PlayStation footballer' criticism that Gary Neville made early in his career wounded him more than is realised. Even now, he doesn't like to be reminded of it, doesn't understand why it is brought up so frequently, when even Neville has said his view has changed.
Yet Neville was not alone. It was said one of the reasons Jose Mourinho allowed Luiz to be sold to Paris Saint-Germain in 2014 was his optimism. As a defender, not a person; Mourinho likes his defenders pessimistic. He wants them worried about what will go wrong, not confident the plan will succeed. 

'Hey, that is not just Mourinho,' Luiz interjects. 'In Brazil they say it, too. Defenders must be pessimists. I cannot be that. I am an optimist in my life. I'm positive. I always think and dream of the best things. But I know where I am. I don't want to take my small boat and go against a wave of 20 metres. Maybe I can go around the sides, and we'll arrive. I'll try to find a way.'
An instance of extreme optimism, though, produced one of the goals of the season. January 31, Chelsea at Liverpool. Adam Lallana fouls Hazard some 25 yards from goal. Luiz is told he can take the free-kick. But he is carrying an injury. He goes to the touchline for water instead. As he runs back on, Mark Clattenburg blows his whistle.
By now Luiz is striding full pelt towards the scene. Willian is supposed to take it, but senses what Luiz has in mind, and says, 'Go on, go on.' And while Simon Mignolet is back on his heels, and Liverpool are still organising their puny three-man wall, Luiz sends the ball into the top corner off the inside of the right post.
Jurgen Klopp called it world class. 'Two seconds before he was standing next to me, drinking water and talking to Antonio Conte,' he marvelled. 

I tell Luiz it is probably my favourite goal of the season. He wonders why.
'Because it's one guy thinking differently from everybody else on the field.'
'Like Hazard does every game,' he says.
'No, because he is thinking instinctively. This was intellectual.'
Finally, he accepts the compliment. 'No, I understand,' he concedes. 'I like this kind of stuff, too. Also, I take the risk. If it goes 20 metres over, everybody will be, "What's he doing? He didn't put his body in the best way. He was greedy. He's crazy."
'I'm not saying I'm cleverer than everybody but when the referee blows the whistle all the players take a big breath to prepare, and in that moment they are not ready. I know this, because I will do it too. The Liverpool goalkeeper is one of the best in the world. If you give him time he will do much better. So I waited for that breath.' 

He is a bright guy, Luiz, but not through formal education. He speaks English and French, as well as Spanish and Portuguese, and can get by in Italian and, often, language skills are learned at home. Yet Luiz didn't speak any language except his own when he came to England in 2011.
He worked hard at his classes here because he wanted to communicate with people. He still does. Kante, Chelsea's player of the season, is very quiet and speaks French. 
Staff say it is Luiz who has brought him out of his shell, brought him into the group, used his French to communicate and create team spirit where previously — well, we all know what happened last season.
People and relationships are important to Luiz. 'Trophies are nice, titles are nice, shining your armour is nice,' he says, 'but moments with people are special.
'Maybe we will meet again in a couple of months; maybe never more. So this is our moment, because we do not know what happens from here. I try to keep the people who touch my heart in my life — friends, parents. I have two friends who live with me, my girlfriend lives near, my parents come over a lot, on my birthday it was my sister and her kids. 

'I remember the first time I said a bad word in front of my sister. My dad sat me down at the table. I had a different attitude then, not the right attitude. "What do you want for your life?" he asked. I said I wanted to play football. "No," he said. "First you must become a good human. I want you to become a footballer, too. But first you must be a good human, with honesty, character, dignity." It was a difficult conversation, but it changed my life.
'My examples were my parents. They were not my friends like this new generation. If your mum and dad are your friends, the bad things you do with your friends you will do with your mum and dad.
'They were the people I listened to, who had their feet on the ground, were humble, who had a simple life. My life has changed a lot, but sometimes I stop and I look to my mum and dad and they're still the same people.
'It was my dad's dream to become a top professional. He got to the brink of the first team at Atletico Mineiro but the money was not there, so he had to take another job. He used to say to me, 'This is for you, it was not for me. I will live this with you.' 

'I was training with Sao Paulo which was a long way from where we lived and I didn't get home until 4pm. When my dad thought I could succeed he went to the court and got authorisation that I study at night school. That was my first shock because it was for older people who didn't have the chance to study — but I was 12. So all my school friends were 25, 35 — one was a woman of 65. 
'It was great to see how she still wanted to learn. I used to help her. But I started to learn and know things, that were not for my age. There were drugs around, guns around — I think football saved me many times. People might say, "No, he's not part of that life. He's our footballer." And they would leave me alone.'
Rejected by Sao Paulo, Luiz tried out for America Mineiro —'the only time in my life I knew hunger, I ate beans in a liquefier twice a day for 10 days, they wanted me to sign but I didn't go back' — and was then invited for a trial at Vitoria in Salvador, 1,260 miles away. He was 14.
'I asked my mum to pay for the flight,' he recalls. 'It was too far by bus. We had to pay in instalments because only rich people flew. I was playing No 10, and on the bench. We used three defenders, nice, like Chelsea.
'We were going to this competition in Santiago, Rio Grande do Sul — it was 75 hours by bus from Salvador. Two of our defenders got injured on the journey but our coach did not want to change the system because our wing-backs were the best players in the team. 

'We had one spare defender. "Who else can I play?" he asked. I told him, "Me." He said, "But you've never been a defender." I told him, "Now I am." He trained two days with me in the middle, I played and was voted best defender in the competition.
'I returned to Salvador a defender. That was a year before I became professional. You cannot make your opportunity happen, you have to see it when it comes. I took a risk and it changed my life, it changed my family's life. Sometimes people lose opportunity because they don't want to try, they don't see the possibility.'
It could be another of those metaphors, perhaps for Chelsea's season, or for Luiz's decision to return to London. How often does second time around work in football? 
Yet Luiz has been a revelation. Conte is getting the credit, and no doubt his attention to detail is a big factor, but Luiz has grown, too. He has learned to temper his game, that he can have greater impact playing with more patience, even restraint. And, being Luiz, he refuses to separate personal and professional growth. 

'Maybe the team is more tactically disciplined,' he adds. 'What I know is I am a better player, a better person, a better brother, a better boyfriend, for sure. I know more things, I have more experience. If my friend came to me crying I know what to say to him, or whether to say nothing at all and just hug him.
'It's like football, I know things a bit more now. I think in a different way. I love our system. It has helped so many players. But, don't forget, we had also lost games. 
'If the manager had started the season playing Victor Moses at right wing-back, everyone would have said, "He's crazy — go back to Italy." But with the right circumstances, he's had an amazing season.
'Everyone thought he was crazy when I came back, too. But I know my role. Cover everybody, cover the space. It is not the best position for me with the ball. Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta touch the ball more than me, because all the strikers stay with me.  

'They want to make it boring for me in England, because everybody knows I love to play. But I know more about football now. I know why people play good, why people play bad and I have to play for my team.
'Before maybe I got frustrated if my team was not controlling the offensive side, and I would lose my position. I would try to do it myself, which was part of the plan in Benfica. My job was to drive the ball to the halfway line. Chelsea didn't have that plan, but sometimes I would do it anyway.
'I like defenders who are always looking to transform a defensive ball into an offensive ball, I like this style. Good football. I don't like the ones who never touch the ball, say, with their left foot. 
'But now, I know you cannot always play this way. If they don't want me to play football, I will find space to touch the ball and try to make the difference another way. Now I manage my game.'
But with joy. Even this patient, watchful, grown-up Luiz. Always with joy.


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  • 2 weeks later...



It was actually David Luiz who had first volunteered the word “risk” in relation to his return to Chelsea. He was on the turf at Stamford Bridge last Sunday conducting a post-match interview in French with William Gallas, his team-mates’ title-winning celebrations crackling all around and a Premier League winner’s medal round his neck, when it cropped up in passing as he lingered, momentarily, on the life he had left behind at Paris Saint-Germain.


The theme was revisited in a stuffy media tent at the champions’ Cobham training base on Thursday but whereas the Brazilian had addressed Gallas through a beaming smile, this time his response bordered on the prickly. Probably with good reason. Why did he consider his return to Chelsea to be a risk? “You know,” he snapped back, albeit through a smile that hinted at disbelief. “If you want me to be honest, be honest with me. Of course, you know. I was winning everything in Paris. I was there for two years and won all the titles in France. I had a great life, great credibility with the club … I had everything.


“But then I took a risk to come back to the one country that was not that happy with me. Where they always criticised me a lot even after winning the Champions League, the Europa League or where I’d played all the games. That’s why it was a risk. And I love the risk. If you don’t take risks in your life – in your professional life but also in everyday life – you never feel anything new, so I [chose to] taste something new. I don’t like to stay always with the easy life but I’m happy now because I took the right decision.”


There is no arguing with that. David Luiz is a natural born winner. Securing the Premier League means he has won the title in Portugal, France and England, to go with the Champions League and Europa League from that first three-and-a-half-year spell at Chelsea.


He boasts an FA Cup winner’s medal from 2012, despite sitting out the victory over Liverpool with a hamstring injury picked up in the semi-final – he would play the European Cup final against Bayern Munich in considerable pain but still end victorious – and goes into Saturday’s showpiece with Arsenal hoping to win another while influencing matters on the pitch.


The list of honours is startling and yet there had been incredulity when news filtered through late last August that the centre-half was returning from France. Therein lies the source of David Luiz’s frustration. Life at PSG may have been as comfortable as it was successful but the real risk was confronting the reception that was waiting back in England, where so many assumed he was the same entrancingly flamboyant but error-prone player who had departed for £48m in 2014. Antonio Conte had been scouring Serie A for solid, dependable types. The Brazilian’s reputation hardly fitted that mould.


Yet his displays this season have proved the watching world wrong. Admittedly, he has benefited in the middle of a three-man defence, where he can be the ball player with more rugged and safety-first team-mates at his side, but the anticipated litany of blunders has simply not materialised. These days the mistakes are so rare – there was one difficult afternoon at Old Trafford, when Marcus Rashford was in the mood, but precious few others – that they feel exceptional, which would explain his bristling at the regular reminders of failings first time round. “I heard a lot of bad things when he arrived, that he was ‘not a defender’,” Conte said. “But we were sure we were signing a really good player we could lift up again to be one of the best defenders in Europe and, I hope, in the world. He has good technique, he’s strong, he starts our possession and has the personality to do this.”


That spell in Paris did change him. The Brazilian was always highly motivated and competitive, and retains that joyful zest for life, but his game developed at PSG. He returned a more accomplished player and a more mature man, even if the wild celebrations of the past few days have brought flashes of the free-spirited David Luiz back into the public eye. Where once he tapped into a reputation as the joker in the dressing room, these days he considers himself one of the motivators; a leader. He has taken N’Golo Kanté under his wing, ensuring the quiet man in the Chelsea midfield is properly involved, part of the gang. They are an unlikely pair but the 30-year-old saw it as his responsibility to make the new man feel at home.


Similarly, where many at Chelsea once feared David Luiz’s focus was continually being drawn to a possible move to Barcelona, now he is settled, content and at ease with his surroundings. He has moved – not back to central London, where he used to own a penthouse flat overlooking Putney Bridge, but to sleepier Surrey. “And, if you want to know about the money, I cut my salary to come back here,” he said. “But it’s OK, God has given me a lot, so I’m happy with this. Did I come back different? Always the same question … I think I try to improve as a person, as a brother, as a son, as a friend every day.


“If you don’t think in this way, if you don’t want to learn, then one day everybody will pass you, so I try to improve every day. The day I arrived back here I spoke with Conte – a great person, a great character who is passionate and loves his football – and he tried to explain his philosophy to play football. He said to me: ‘You are the player I want in my team and to improve my team.’ So I said to him: ‘I’m going to work hard for you and for the team’ and that’s it. I’ve been working hard a lot since the beginning of my career and to play 10 years consecutively in big clubs is not easy, and I try to give my best every season.”


He has brought it to Chelsea. A team who had languished 10th in the division last term have carried all before them.


“So I am the magic, no? The difference?” the Brazilian at the heart of their defence said. “No, of course I’m not. Two years ago they also won this title. Last season was not a good season for Chelsea but this season, we have done great since the beginning – and not just because of me. Because of everybody. Because of the commitment, the desire, the mentality we put on the pitch every day. That’s why we deserve it.”


If his was a risky return, then his gamble has paid off handsomely.




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I just wish he had a better grasp of the English language cause you could tell there was so much more he wanted to say

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Why didnt Conte play him last year?

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