Chelsea’s Champions League last-16 tie with Paris St Germain is nicely poised at 1-1 following the first leg in France three weeks ago. The second leg offers a chance for an old friend to say hello… and goodbye to Stamford Bridge.
The reception former blue David Luiz is given when he returns with PSG on Wednesday will likely be different to that normally afforded to an ex-player facing a former club.
Usually reaction to such an event falls into one of two categories: over the top worship/thanks/adulation or equally excessive loathing/revulsion/hatred. Over the last two seasons, genuine Chelsea icons Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard have visited Stamford Bridge as opposition players and been lauded. The Effect on Drogba when he returned as a Galatasaray player this time last season was as stark as it was surprising. Drogba was, to be blunt, awful. Anonymous for most of the game, his biggest contribution was to blast a free kick so far over the crossbar it hit the banner which sits halfway up the Matthew Harding stand and reads: Drogba Legend.
Jose Mourinho had killed Drogba with kindness in the build-up and the return to his spiritual home and it proved too much for the Ivorian who turned in what must be ranked as one of the poorest performances of his stellar career.
Lampard’s return was even more muted. A 14-minute cameo in the 1-1 draw between the Blues and Manchester City in January was entirely inconsequential, merely a well-earned if brief stop and wave on Frankie’s farewell tour of English football (presumably).
While Luiz is unlikely to be afforded the same preferential treatment as Drogba and Lampard, it also seems far-fetched to think he’ll be booed out of the building. In fact, the return of the Sideshow Bob coiffured one will more probably be met with the same sort of cheery reminiscence evoked when you bump into a an ex-school mate you haven’t seen in a while. That kid who was loved by teachers, bullies, girls et al. The loveable lummox. Occasionally guilty of leaving a pin on sir’s chair but so fresh-faced, cheeky and generally well-intentioned he would leave the classroom with his hair tousled and a playful clip round the ear rather than detention and a letter home.
Gary Neville (or Jose Mourinho for that matter) might not think too highly of Luiz’s abilities but to Chelsea supporters he is remembered fondly.
His post-Champions League celebrations:
and liberal use of the term ‘geezer’ on his Twitter page helped earn him cult status, but it was his contributions on the field which ought not to be forgotten.
The howls of derision which greeted the reported £50m transfer (which in actuality was nearer £37m) from Chelsea to PSG before the World Cup and that disastrous performance in the semi-final for Brazil against Germany drowned out the noise Luiz made with his positive donations to the Chelsea cause during his time in England. It’s worth revisiting them in order to get an accurate summary of Luiz’s Chelsea career.
Yes he would occasionally wander up the pitch, leaving his defence a man light, but sometimes it would result in spectacular goals like the one he hit against Basel in the semi-final of the Europa League in 2013:
This came two weeks after another outrageous effort at Fulham:
Despite common perception, Luiz can defend too. Nearly three years on, the outstanding memory of Chelsea’s Champions League triumph in 2012 is Didier Drogba’s winning penalty in the shootout. It’s easily forgotten that Luiz played a key part in getting Chelsea to that stage, defending heroically for 120 minutes in what was his first appearance in more than a month.
He still bears the scar on his leg from the hamstring injury that was hastily patched up to allow him to play in the Allianz Arena that night, when he proved his strength of character as well as his physical toughness.
Chelsea were 2-0 down in the shootout when Luiz stepped up to take his team’s second spot kick but his finish was as nerveless as it was powerful and set the tone for Chelsea’s subsequent victory.
Luiz left Chelsea with Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup medals in his pocket. It’s a shame then that much of the reporting in the build up to Wednesday’s match has cast Luiz as a bitter ex-player, coming back with the intention of sticking two fingers up to his old employees rather than waving goodbye. His comment that Jose Mourinho “isn’t special to me” was likely born more of mischief than of malice. With Luiz seemingly enjoying springtime in Paris (and who wouldn’t) and Chelsea coping just fine without him, there’s little need for animosity when he makes his return to west London. To call him a Chelsea legend would be a stretch. Luiz would, I’m sure, settle for being welcomed back as a Chelsea geezer instead.
Commentator Matt Davies can be heard on Chelsea TV & Premier League Productions amongst others, send him your opinions on Twitter @