SPECIAL REPORT: A decisive phone call made David Luiz turn his back on Chelsea and now the often-maligned and sometimes magnificent Brazilian is eyeing one of the most satisfying cup wins of his career… and DON’T bet against him having the last laugh
- David Luiz will form the base of Arsenal’s defence in the FA Cup final vs Chelsea
- The Brazilian faces his former club and will play in the final for the first time
- Project Restart has reflected Luiz’s career, with jubilant highs and deep lows
- Luiz was sent off vs Man City, but bounced back to knock them out of the cup
As sub-plots go, the one centred on David Luiz is the most intriguing heading into Saturday’s FA Cup final.
You can picture it now: 89th minute, 1-1 and Arsenal win a corner. Luiz, chest puffed out, strides forward. You know the rest.
Not that Luiz would rub it in Frank Lampard’s face if he did prove to be the matchwinner. He isn’t that kind of guy.
The explanation for his shock, whirlwind exit from Chelsea last summer differs depending on who you talk to.
Arsenal’s redemption man David Luiz will feel he has a lot to prove during Saturday’s final
Luiz has tasted FA Cup success with Chelsea, but did not feature in the final matches
But no one will dispute the fact that Luiz and Lampard did not see eye-to-eye. Yes, they were team-mates and yes they won trophies together. Things change, however.
The transition from team-mates to a player-manager relationship was not a smooth one.
Luiz was more than happy at Stamford Bridge, he had just signed a new two-year contract and was preparing for life under Lampard.
Then the phone rang. Unai Emery was on the other end.
The pair had worked together at Paris Saint-Germain and Emery was keen to rekindle their relationship in London.
There was a catch, though. Finances are tight at Arsenal and they could only offer him a 12-month contract with the option for a further year depending on how the season went.
With a guaranteed two-year deal in the bag at Chelsea, the opportunity to join Arsenal represented a big risk for Luiz. Yet it was one he wanted to take.
But why would the 33-year-old leave the comfort of Chelsea, a club who had just turned a blind eye to their policy of only offering over-30s one-year contract extensions to offer him two?
Luiz will face his former club, and former team-mate Frank Lampard, in the national stadium
In the end, it was the conversation with Emery that proved decisive. The Spaniard pleaded with Luiz, telling him his Arsenal squad lacked leadership and that he envisaged the centre half becoming the bedrock of his defence.
His decision came as a shock to those in the Blues boardroom.They had heard about the strained relationship between player and manager but it was nothing out of the ordinary and once the season started the belief was that Lampard and Luiz would put whatever differences they had to one side.
However, Luiz’s mind was made up. So, too, was Lampard’s as soon as the Brazilian informed him of his wish to move to north London.
On August 7, Luiz reported to Chelsea’s Cobham training complex as normal but a mutual decision was made for him to train away from the first team.
It made sense — Luiz wanted out while Lampard felt the defender was becoming a disruptive influence as he attempted to force a move across the capital.
Twenty-four hours later he was confirmed as an Arsenal player in a deal worth £8million.
Since his arrival life at Arsenal has been eventful. Emery was sacked in November and replaced by Mikel Arteta three weeks later.
Luiz has been a rock for the Gunners in recent weeks, though recently struggled hugely
In the first match after the return from the covid-19 postponement, Luiz was sent off at City
His journey on the pitch has meandered, too. From maligned to magnificent in the space of six weeks, Project Restart has almost mirrored Luiz’s career.
He was written off for a calamitous display against Manchester City on June 17, Arsenal’s first game back after the coronavirus-enforced shutdown. Fast-forward to today and Luiz is preparing for what would be one of the most satisfying moments of a career that has amassed 16 major trophies.
It wasn’t publicised at the time, but Sportsmail can reveal that Luiz was carrying a hamstring problem in the 3-0 loss to City, which was why Arteta named him on the bench.
There was uncertainty, too, over whether Arsenal would activate the 12-month extension to his contract.
But Pablo Mari suffered a serious injury in the 24th minute at City and Luiz was called into action. The rest is now notorious.
His cameo lasted just 25 minutes and included him committing an error that led to City taking the lead before later conceding a penalty for which he was sent off.
Luiz was pilloried, yet news about his injury was unknown until now.
It says something about his commitment that he agreed to put his body at risk when his future at the club appeared uncertain.
Not that it would have changed the reaction from supporters who were demanding Arsenal cut him loose.
But Arteta, despite what he had just seen, had made up his mind. He knew all about Luiz’s history of mistakes — there have certainly been a few.
But the Brazilian has since bounced back, putting a smile on the face of manager Mikel Arteta
Luiz was influential as Arsenal got their revenge on City and knocked them out of the FA Cup
But he also saw in Luiz someone who has emerged as a leader of his team — a player who takes it upon himself to guide a squad bursting with young potential such as Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah. Young players gravitate to Luiz — just ask Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount at Chelsea.
When Luiz is on board he is 100 per cent in. In October, for instance, Arsenal were struggling to get players to agree to a two-day visit to Rwanda as part of the club’s partnership with Visit Rwanda.
A number are believed to have turned down the opportunity, citing their busy schedules. Luiz agreed to go, understanding the importance that the playing squad were represented.
That is Luiz in a nutshell: when he’s in, he’s in.
Yet there was a period last month when Luiz could easily have found himself on the move again.
He received another phone call, this time it was Jorge Jesus. His former manager explained that he was heading back to Benfica for the start of 2020-21 campaign and he wanted Luiz to come ‘home’.
Luiz and Jesus spent two seasons together in Lisbon, winning the league title and two cups.
Throwing himself at every ball, Luiz helped the Gunners keep a clean sheet and make the final
Jesus remains a father figure to Luiz and is not a person he would routinely say no to. Benfica tabled a two-year contract, and Luiz was in a quandary.
But, in the end, Arteta’s influence won him round. In a series of meetings and after hours of phone calls, Arteta explained his vision for the club.
Luiz was deeply impressed by the manager’s footballing philosophy. He has played for some high-profile managers: Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Rafa Benitez to name just five. But 38-year-old Arteta was providing insight into a different way of playing, something he had never seen before.
Arteta drilled Luiz day and night to ensure that he would stay and on June 24 he signed up for another 12 months, passing up the offer of two years in Portugal.
Since then, Luiz has proved Arteta’s faith was not misplaced with Arsenal losing just twice since he returned to the team following suspension.
His performance in the shock semi-final win over Manchester City side was inspirational.
And now, as he lines up against the manager who was happy to let him go last summer, who would put it past Luiz to deliver another Wembley masterclass?
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