“It is fair to say Luiz has divided opinion during his career, he is widely regarded as a player that veers between brilliance and catastrophe and that reputation is not without foundation.” So I wrote last August on these pages. Accepted, that part hardly constituted blistering insight, it is more or less the public consensus on a player who seems capable of everything except an unremarkable 7/10 performance.
Luiz’s future has been subject to discussion over the last few weeks as it emerged that he was not signed on a 2-year contract, as initially reported, but on a 1+1 deal. One or both of the player and the club have hesitated over the +1 part like a wedding guest agonising over whether to bring an unpopular other half to the reception.
Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks and however his Arsenal future is resolved- and it will be resolved one way or another- Arsenal cannot argue they haven’t had the full David Luiz experience. He arrived out of nowhere in August, a surprise signing as the Gunners scrambled around for a Laurent Koscielny replacement.
Luiz rocked up back at Chelsea in almost identical circumstances in 2016. Having spent a summer unsuccessfully courting Kalidou Koulibaly, Chelsea’s search for a centre-half went down to the wire and they mashed the “emergency David Luiz” button with their palm on deadline day. Luiz’s representative Kia Joorabchian was also a representative for Oscar, Ramires, Willian and Alex Pato- he had a positive working relationship with Chelsea.
It was an easy deal for Chelsea to do, much as it was an expedient deal for Arsenal to do given Kia’s close working relationship with Edu and Raul Sanllehi. So we’ve seen the expedient, ‘surprise deadline day to London club in short term need of a centre half’ move before. Several other key Luiz themes have also resurfaced during his 10 months in North London.
Luiz has had vastly different relationships with coaches down the years. He adored Jorge Jesus at Benfica, to whom he has been cosying up in the media in recent weeks, he loved working with Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea and initially enjoyed playing under Antonio Conte before he drastically fell out with the Italian. He repeated that fallout with Frank Lampard, leaving the club two months after extending his contract at Stamford Bridge last summer. Few other high profile players can sign a new contract with a club in May and decide that, by August, their relationship with the manager is totally untenable and have it not surprise anyone.
At international level he enjoyed a close relationship with Luiz Felipe Scolari but was frozen out under his surlier successor Dunga. From starting eleven lock to total exile in one coaching reshuffle- that’s how Luiz rolls. As his on-pitch performances suggest, he is scarcely capable of emotional moderation and we have seen that at Arsenal. Under Unai Emery, Luiz was disastrously bad and he wasn’t alone.
Emery’s final game in charge brought with it a sure sign of the managerial apocalypse as Unai experimented with Luiz in defensive midfield against Frankfurt. The ‘Luiz in defensive midfield’ option is the surest sign of a coach gripped by panic. The Brazilian has often been purchased as a last minute, panic option so it probably stands to reason that some of his coaches have little to no idea how to accommodate his gifts.
It’s difficult to isolate Luiz when it comes to an obvious loss of faith in Unai Emery, he was very far from alone in that respect. Just look back at the footage of Alex Lacazette’s stoppage time equaliser against Southampton in November- everyone had checked out at that point, both in the stands and on the pitch.
Luiz did perk up markedly under Arteta and his comments in the media about the Spaniard were luminous with optimism, “What Mikel is trying to build is something big and I really believe in his philosophy, I really believe we can do something big this year and in the future, so I’m really, really happy because we have our way to go. This way, is it going to be a hard way? Yes. Is it going to be difficult to achieve? Yes, but it’s possible. Yes, it’s possible.”
‘Player says something nice about his manager’ is not usually news, but Luiz doesn’t really do platitudes. His mood veers between darkness and light and when he says something nice, he means it (the opposite is also true). So as Arsenal became slightly more structured under Arteta, his performances improved and he emerged as a leader in the squad.
“I wanted him to step up, I wanted him to put all his qualities – his personality and his experience – towards the team and he made a big step forward,” Arteta said in January. “I am very, very pleased with him.” One thing Arteta’s nascent managerial career has shown us is that he is not a coach that deals in platitudes either.
Luiz started every important game under Arteta and the coach has not baulked at leaving big personalities out of the team if he felt their application was lacking. The Brazilian captained the side for the FA Cup win at Fratton Park in March. Yet it’s clear that something has changed in recent weeks leading to Luiz being left out of the game against Manchester City on Wednesday.
“There are a few things that happened in recent weeks,” Arteta said cryptically before the match on Wednesday. An early injury to Pablo Mari meant that Luiz was called for, leading to the most Luiz of Luiz disaster classes. After the game, the Brazilian faced the cameras under the pretence of ‘fronting up’ but, in reality, his mea culpa was an opportunity to mug on camera about his own contract.
“I should have taken a different decision in the last two months but I didn’t. All about my contract, if I stay here or not. I have 14 days to be here and that’s it. I should have tried to decide my future as early as possible, but I didn’t.” Personally, I find it profoundly irritating that a player that has just lost his team a game decides to make for the nearest camera and make it all about his own contractual situation. Sometimes silence is golden.
Even within Arteta’s short reign, we have experienced every side of Luiz’s multi-faceted brand. From trusted stalwart to problem child in the space of a fortnight and now the swift surprise exit seems to be on the cards, which presumably will lead to the surprise, last-ditch transfer somewhere else, where he will surely repeat the cycle.
Arsenal have squeezed about three years of the usual Luiz cycle into 10 months. As we negotiate the “new normal” it is almost comforting to see the most dependable of Premier League story arcs repeat itself. The Gunners have had the full Luiz experience- the surprise arrival, the uncertainty, the downing tools for an unpopular manager, the emotional embrace of the new coach and the redemption followed by the swift unravelling and quick departure. David Luiz is truly football’s rolling stone.