Classic David Luiz, Wolves fans gleefully grinned last month. Football really is back thought everyone after game two of project restart ended in a David Luiz-shaped catastrophe. Hands rub tantalisingly together and lips smack as critics of the Brazilian, er, let me check that, yes, a defender, piled in following that 7-1 nightmare to Germany on the 2014 World Cup semi-final stage. Ahhahaha Chelsea fans howled in laughter, of the belief that Arsenal were paying Chelsea £8 Million to purposefully weaken themselves.
When we talk about Luiz, (David not Douglas) we talk about events, chaos, goals, rash challenges, fluky free kicks. We rarely give him his credit when it is due. Often, a typical Luiz performance will compromise itself. Header out, one step forward, a ragged last-man rugby tackle, two steps back.
Take the wonderfully silly 4-2 game against Leeds. In the first half, Luiz was a leader who without exposure to his unpreferred back four deployment, operated as freely as a mischievous ghoul, popping up here there and everywhere, his flopping curls and surprising turn of pace haunting the Leeds XI. None more so than an outstanding individual slalom as he burst from deep up to the by-line to eventually win a corner after shimmying a Tango around the entire Leeds centre. A centre which admittedly, for the first forty-five minutes had a spine as robust as custard.
Here comes the crux though. And perhaps this is an enforced adaptation of Arsenal, more than merely Luiz. As the second half progressed, so did Luiz’s exposure to his actual ability to defend. Patrick Bamford began to threaten, Brazilian compatriot Raphinha relished direct runs and curling efforts that enforced nervous shoulder glances and mouthed thank-you’s to Bernd Leno. Attack-minded Luiz was still switched on so much so that he lost the man he was meant to be marking as Pascal Strujik strutted into the area and headed home. That substitute Helder Costa had the entire penalty area nearly to himself also spoke volumes of an incompetent Arsenal defence as the Portuguese’s composed finish put Ian Wright’s head in his hands and Gunners fan’s heart rates drastically increased again.
To some, Luiz’s maverick spirit is marvellously modern, a prime example of the evolved attacking mindset into the Premier League thanks to sorcerers Guardiola, Klopp, Bielsa, Potter and co. To others, letting Luiz live on free roaming mode permanently is as impractically clumsy as an elderly man frantically trying to balance an unbalanced washing line by running from one end to another. To an extent, Luiz likeability is individual and thus, variable. His sending off at Molinuex may well have been harsh but the first I heard of it was “Arsenal ten men”. Harsh, as this may be, my mind couldn’t help but naturally drift towards Luiz. After all, this is a player with three straight red cards within only a season and a half at Arsenal.
Yet prior to the misfortune at Wolves, Luiz had been remarkably un-Luiz like in his reliability. Since January, he has played in eleven of Arsenal’s fourteen matches, been partnered with three separate centre backs and prior to Molinuex, been an ever-present as Arsenal racked up six clean sheets in seven.
We may also remember David’s success as a re-signing at Chelsea where he was rejuvenated in a scintillatingly successful back three role as Antonio Conte took the Blues to their latest league title. The Brazilian, for all his ‘gangiliness’ was also a pivotal part of Mikel Arteta’s FA Cup winning team last season and it speaks loudly against his critics that Arteta (whom, as Mesut Ozil discovered carries no deadweight) describes Luiz as a pleasure to work with.
But is this enough? Surely, any old Bob can be pleasant to work with, where is the substance and professional footballer quality? For starters, it is in his numerous trophies that reflects a winning mentality. Luiz’s best moments are when he has been granted permission to play to his strengths, casually pinging precision passes into reinvented wing-backs like Victor Moses or in his signature curl-flick headers that we have seen against Bournemouth, Manchester City and Leicester in recent seasons. Luiz’s wildcard capabilities allow him to be arguably the best free kick striking defender the league has yet seen (although Lewis Dunk is beginning to contest that debate).
Despite these attributes though and that general philosophical football debates are becoming more anti-Allardyce in style, David Luiz still annoys some.
Within my life various labels of Lui include ‘plonker’, ‘curly haired idiot’ and a clown. Even one professional Sports journalist hypothesised that Luiz was more hindrance than help when defending. In many ways however, this is why I can’t help but admire Luiz. Yes, he’s calamitous but the guy is also a winner. A gracious winner too, emitting hope to all nice guys and girls that, yeah, you know what, screw the “nice guys can’t win” stigma, we’ve won too. Type David Luiz into YouTube and his heart-warming rapport with youthful Arsenal and Brazil fans is clear to see.
Above all, Luiz is an entertainer through which especially in these endless lockdown days, provides a superb outlet for us all, his critics included, to flop on the sofa, switch off and point at his notable figure of flopping hair. And to those that criticise him, take Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds who for all are a remarkable, make-you-smile type of team, almost Sheffield United-esque, they have lost a lot of games. They aren’t chastised nearly as much.
Luiz also has a sense of selflessness in adapting to a back four for Arteta. It is this acceptance and willingness to learn that allows him to lead quietly while the full-backs bomb forward. It could be sensed that half of Luiz is darn well tempted to scrap the CB position altogether and charge into opposition territory, completely whole-hearted. Inner Luiz whispers temptations such as “I know I’ll leave my defence short but imagine scoring…” Perhaps the venom in his free-kick technique and expertly pinged crossfield balls are reflective of the Brazilian’s adventurous nature freeing itself from the claws of rigidity and tactical discipline. Of a hand desperately grappling for grip at the top of a stone-dry, out of chalk range, slab of heightened granite. Relatable of our elusively extending fingers returning to the biscuit box. Luiz serves as a reminder if we get in a position to daydream, it can come in dream or nightmare form.
And sure, don’t we all have that temptation within ourselves? An urge to be the main man or woman? To grab some positive attention instead of always ranking in the bottom four rated Arsenal players on BBC Sport polls. Luiz letting go to success (some of the time) allows us mortals to dreamily shake off the shackles to which current university life bounds us to. As Luiz lumbers along, we too reminisce of packing in our deadlines and heading on a glorious escapade (these days that is merely stepping outside where we live).
Sleep is filled with fantastical frenzies of running with an implausible amount of attempted human contact as we embark on a Luiz-like dribble. We awaken, panting, tongues dripping with saliva, oh to feel a fellow human’s physical touch, oh ah, that’s dreamy now. That would be nice. As my own hair curls and calls for a mullet become desperate howls, I wonder if it would suit. My want for a competitive race, even poor old forgotten Parkrun, deepens as I lose myself in a wondrous world of elbowing out some poor unsuspecting sod (that I probably chatted to most of the race) on the sprint-finish drain of the final Kilometre.
To look at David Luiz and see that he not only lives with but hypothetically hugs the ups and downs of a marmite reputation gives the rest of us license to hope. As well as optimism that we too can emerge as free, roaming spirits and wonderfully unpredictable entertainers, across interdisciplinary walks of university experience, of which we all need a bit of right now.
Descriptions accompanying photographs are those of the Editor.