When Chelsea won their most recent league title in the 2016-2017 season, David Luiz played a vital role in the Blues’ success. Then manager Antonio Conte positioned him in the middle of a back three where the 31-year-old not only excelled in defence but also in attack.
Despite being an imposing defensive presence at the heart of the Chelsea defence, the big-haired Brazilian possessed silky skills with the ball at his feet, allowing him to make accurate passes into teammates or at times, carry the ball forward to continue the progression of the team’s build-up.
In the most recent campaign, Luiz spent less time on the pitch yet nevertheless, he remains one of the best ball-playing centre-backs in the Premier League. Countless times we’ve seen him dribble forward with calm and poise from deep when given space, but exactly how did the Brazilian develop this outstanding ability on the ball for a 6ft 2in centreback (excluding the afro height)?
In a recent interview, David Luiz had finally revealed why at times he prefers to bamboozle his way around opponents – with Hazard-like confidence. “I joined Vitoria Bahia, in the north of Brazil and when I was 16 we played in a tournament in the south of Brazil, near Argentina. Our bus journey took 72 hours,” said Luiz, who actually started out playing further up the pitch.
“That tournament changed my life. At the time I was a No.10 but I was on the substitutes bench at the start. We were playing a 3-4-3 system and in the first game of the tournament two of our centrebacks got injured. We didn’t have any more defenders on the bench but the coach didn’t want to change our formation.”
Even then, the Brazil star had been an affable figure, offering to abandon his playmaking duties upfront to shore up his team’s depleted backline. “I said to him ‘I will play in defence’ because I just wanted to play! So he put me in the centre of the back three, the same position I would play for Chelsea 12 years later.
“When I got back to Bahia, the coach of the first team spoke with me. He said I was going to train for six months as a defender and then I would play with the first team. So I did that, became a defender, and signed my first professional contract at 17.”
Indeed, that switch to a defensive role more than a decade ago helped shape what has been a truly fine career for David Luiz. The Brazilian’s comfort on the ball will certainly prove helpful in his bid to plead his case as a starter in central defence for the exciting Maurizio Sarri project coming into Stamford Bridge this upcoming season.