Wednesday’s Champions League defeat to Barcelona was welcomed as another another side-splitting revue. There was football’s clown prince, twice being nutmegged by the venomously serious Luis Suarez, who only utilised his own circus trick as a means to a very definite end, scoring twice from both maneuverers to all but end PSG's participation in Europe.
This double humiliation was quickly seized upon by Twitter. Now John Terry’s full-kit celebration has faded from the forefront of the collective hive mind, Luiz could well be football’s most meme-worthy defender. He exists as a source of endless RTs, featuring more regularly in lists detailing ‘the best social media reaction from X’ than serious considerations of the world’s very best players.
Having cost £50 million, he really should be talked about in more revered terms, yet Luiz remains inherently funny rather than convincing, at times seemingly more at home in a joke book than the history books.
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This makes Luiz an easy target for pundits. After watching Suarez embarrass him on Wednesday, Glenn Hoddle compared Luiz to “an eight-year-old who hasn't been coached”, traducing his reputation in obscenely blunt terms. It is hard to think of many other players who have been subjected to such a wilfully offensive appraisal of their ability.
Hoddle overlooked the fact that Luiz had been working 12 hours a day to cure himself of a hamstring injury in order to make the matchday squad at all, and was only supposed to play for a portion of the second half before Thiago Silva’s night was ended by injury. As his international team-mate was withdrawn, Luiz risked his tender hamstring to serve his team.
An eight-year-old would have been safely curled up on a sofa watching CBBC, jam sandwiches in hand, being nursed slowly back to full health, but still Hoddle sought to dice Luiz up. And it is not the first time the Brazilian has been damned by infantile association.
Gary Neville’s description of Luiz as "being controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation" has stuck with the Brazilian defender in much the same way that Graham Taylor has always been haunted by the apparition of a turnip, or (thanks to Hoddle) Andy Cole for years was unable to shake off the stigma of a suggestion that he needed five chances to score a goal.
Neville regrets his PlayStation comment, which Luiz took as a sign that the pundit “doesn’t respect me”. But in truth, there have been occasions when the defender does invite such comparisons. Most memorably, his complete loss of composure and control in Brazil’s 7-1 loss to Germany at the World Cup finals.
When you get bought for £50M & you get nutmegged twice & let in 2 goals by Suarez in the #UCL quarter finals. pic.twitter.com/yUFRRuPEGd— Ash_LFC (@zodman100) April 15, 2015
Brazil’s collective emotional turbulence – evident in the overblown and fraught reaction to Neymar’s injury – was distilled in Luiz. He was a geyser of unconstrained and unfocused passion, erupting in random areas of the pitch as he became completely detached from his position and completely unhinged in his approach. The utter disbelief at seeing Luiz materialise at right midfield as his side were being taken apart in Belo Horizonte was one of the most indelible images of the tournament.
To a large extent, then, Luiz’s wounds are self-inflicted. He is unreliable as a centre-back, even if he is lavishly talented. That’s why Jose Mourinho never really trusted him in the position. But, still, the eagerness to leap on his mistakes and portray them as part of an unceasing comedy routine sit uneasily. His career should be a serious proposition, not seen as a piece of performance art.
Clearly, for whatever reason, his hair plays a part. On a media day ahead of the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, Luiz was not quizzed about the slinking movement of Thomas Mueller, nor the driving runs or Arjen Robben, but whether his appearance was making him a cult hero with Chelsea fans. There appears to be something about a big bubble of curly hair which magnetically attracts fascination and, at times, ridicule. Marouane Fellaini can testify to that.
It is perhaps fitting that his famous mop means Luiz’s lookalike is the brooding, murderous and despised sidekick to a clown. An unholy alliance of comedy and tragedy that finds itself replicated in the tensions pulling at the public perception of this hugely talented yet flawed individual who has, unfortunately, become the butt of football's jokes.
Tom Adams - @tomEurosport
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