Gary Neville’s famous description of David Luiz being so poor that it was as if the Brazilian was being controlled by a 10-year old playing PlayStation came to roost Tuesday night in Belo Horizonte.
Luiz pointed to the sky after the game in full prayer, looking for any direction from God in how to handle what was to come for him afterwards.
Luiz exhibited once more throughout the tournament that he carries his faith everywhere he goes, especially on the field. Win or lose, it’s the main thing that gives him the guidance required for how he deals with the world. But for two hours on Tuesday, with wearing the captain’s armband for his nation, we saw the world’s most expensive defender regress to the risky, calamitous player we know him as. Maybe Jose Mourinho was wise in selling him to Paris Saint-Germain for £50million.
It was a World Cup where it appeared that Luiz was ready to be a world-class centerback. A defender that could lead his team with pure emotion, great intensity, and the tactical awareness to make timely interventions and have shrewd positioning sense. Combine that with his great midfield offensive abilities, his opening header vs Chile and his amazing free kick goal from distance against Colombia, and it seemed like he may have been on the verge of becoming the behemoth in the position that many thought he could be.
Those key characteristics were in play for David Luiz in the first five games of Brazil’s quest for a sixth World Cup, one on home soil.
But what was also beside Luiz that allowed those invaluable traits to appear for him was one man: Thiago Silva, the actual team captain.
Silva was the lug-nuts to Luiz’s wheel, and the legs to Luiz’s table. And on Tuesday afternoon in Belo Horizonte, four days after Silva’s ridiculous second yellow card against Colombia ruled him out for the semifinals, his partner in defense and crucial support that Luiz needed wasn’t there.
Luiz, along with Julio Cesar, held up Neymar’s jersey during the national anthem but he might as well have been better off holding Silva’s as well. Gone was the reliable force of the first five games and in came the center back who both Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho concluded wasn’t a centerback. In came the center back who likely made Mourinho laugh somewhere in private a few times as PSG thought that Luiz was a $75 million enforcer at the heart of the back line. Lord knows how much Fabio Cannavaro would be worth nowadays.
The moment he got picked off on Thomas Muller’s movement for the first goal in the 13th minute set the stage for the shambolic day.
The second goal is where Luiz was a spectator outside of the box, as Fernandinho’s risky and unsuccessful interception attempt eventually led to Miroslav Klose becoming the World Cup’s all time leading goal scorer.
It was now a firm test of Luiz’s transient captain credentials. Would he gather the whole side in front of their countrymen and women and demand an urgent response, to avoid a result that would rival the infamous one in 1950? Or would he be too shellshocked and flabbergasted for answers, lost in the sea of insecurity and declivity?
It would painfully turn out to be the later for the 27-year-old, as there was no group huddle of vociferation, but continued devastation. Just under 60 seconds later, Luiz saw his backline let Philipp Lahm’s ball go right through the box to Toni Kroos. Luiz couldn’t react fast enough to get to Cesar’s near post. 3-0.
Just two minutes later, he was caught absence from the box again after Fernandinho’s latest poor moment, leading to Kroos’ simple second. 4-0.
And when it came time for him to display centerback play at its most careless, Luiz fulfilled that duty by transforming into his holding destroyer midfield mentality instead of a last resort at the back. He barreled forward right at counterpart Mats Hummels’ step up and failed to win the ball, leaving Dante exposed once more and a five goal tally for Germany not even a half-hour in.
All Luiz could do is hold his hands to the side and ponder what was the reason for all of this?
Ninety minutes later, the final whistle had blown. The scoreboard flashed the 1-7 tally as the man who wore the armband for the Selecao emulated the pain of his supporters in the stands. He finished his prayer up above, staying true to his faith in the biggest adversity of his career while being consoled by the safety net that wasn’t there for him in Silva.
“I’m sorry to all Brazilians,” Luiz said with full tears in his eyes. “I just wanted to see them smile, everyone knows how important it was. It’s a very sad but it’s also a day from which to learn.”
He can’t take all of the blame for this epic nightmare of course, as every player under Luis Felipe Scolari shouldered responsibility for the worst night in their football lives. The central midfield, which again seems to be the proper spot for Luiz whenever Silva is not around, occupied by Fernandinho and Luis Gustavo, were flogged repeatedly by the terrific trifecta of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, and the resurgent Sami Khedira. Those four goals in six minutes were absolutely shocking. And the front four of Oscar, Hulk, Bernard and the booed Fred failed to press back or pressure Germany’s back line.
But this is where a strong defender and a stable leader comes and says through words and actions, “Enough and enough.”
For five games into the tournament, David Luiz appeared to finally be that defender. For the sixth game, one that will forever rank at the top of the modern football memory, he could only point to the sky and accept that he just isn’t that by himself.