David Luiz exclusive interview: ‘The emotions are going to be real - I am just trying to be me’

Sam Dean
The Telegraph
David Luiz joined Arsenal in one of the most surprising transfers of the summer - igihepicturs
David Luiz joined Arsenal in one of the most surprising transfers of the summer - igihepicturs

David Luiz, being David Luiz, does not hold back in his description of his recent adventure in a Rwandan rainforest. “It was like being inside a movie,” he says, glancing over his shoulder as if he is once again wading through the trees, his eyes wide in mock fear as he pushes the hair from his face. “Like Tarzan. When we started to walk inside the jungle, we were a bit tense.”

In true Tarzan style, Luiz was searching for gorillas. He was in Rwanda with his mother and his fiancée, learning about a part of the world he knew little about, and the opportunity to see a family of wild silverbacks was one he embraced with typical gusto.

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“Wow,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “We found the family and there were more than 10 of them. Of course, for the first five minutes you are scared. But after that you see they are lovely, how they accept us. There was a baby who was just three days old.”

It is, one assumes, safe to say that Luiz was the only Premier League footballer who could be found wading through an African jungle and cooing over a baby gorilla during the international break. But then the Brazilian has never been the conformist type, in his appearance or in his football, and his approach to the trip was as wholehearted as you would expect of a man who rarely does things by halves.

Invited as part of Arsenal’s partnership with Rwanda, Luiz chose to do it properly. He brought his family, serving as his mother’s translator, and was far more involved in learning about the country’s history — the genocide of 1994, and the rapid reconstruction of society since then — than anyone could have hoped of an elite footballer fulfilling his contractual obligations.

<span>Arsenal have a partnership with VisitRwanda</span> <span>Credit: igihepicturs </span>
Arsenal have a partnership with VisitRwanda Credit: igihepicturs

“My guide in the genocide memorial was a guy who survived it,” he says. “It was a moment where I learned a lot. In our busy lives, and not just in football, we lose our perspective and our real vision about life. We are not enjoying our families, we are not enjoying the simple moments. It was a really great experience in my life.”

It was also a welcome diversion from the rigours of Premier League football. For Luiz and Arsenal, those pressures return on Monday night, when Unai Emery’s side face Sheffield United in a fixture that can only be described as a test of their character. It is the sort of match in which Arsenal have traditionally struggled and the kind of night when leaders will be needed on the pitch.

The presence of Luiz should help in that regard. Ever since his arrival this summer, the Arsenal players have been relentless in their praise of the Brazilian’s character and warmth. As his former team-mates at Chelsea will attest, an engaged and supportive Luiz can be a unifying, invigorating force behind the scenes.

It is a natural strength of personality that stems, Luiz says, from his school-teacher parents. “The first thing they taught me about being a leader is to live for others, to be a collective person,” he says. “In my life I have tried to do that. I just try to be as natural as I can, to make the others feel comfortable.

“I take pleasure from helping others. It makes me happy. To see Gabriel [Martinelli] scoring his first goal and looking towards his family — this gives me pleasure. To see Bukayo [Saka] playing at 18 years old in a big club — this gives me pleasure. I was playing in the third division when I was 18! To see Hector [Bellerin] come back from his injury with such hunger — this gives me pleasure.”

Luiz’s move from Chelsea to Arsenal was one of the more unexpected transfers of the summer, not least because he had signed a new contract at Chelsea in May. Football is a dynamic world, though, and the respective changes at both clubs — the departure of Laurent Koscielny from Arsenal, the appointment of Frank Lampard at Chelsea — made it a deal that suited all parties.

<span>David Luiz is proving a popular player in the Arsenal dressing room</span> <span>Credit: igihepicturs </span>
David Luiz is proving a popular player in the Arsenal dressing room Credit: igihepicturs

Still, there are some things that Luiz wants to make clear. “I decided to leave Chelsea before there was contact with Arsenal,” he says. “People do not know that but I decided early to leave Chelsea. After that I had contact with Arsenal and I took a decision which everybody knows was not easy.

“Me and Lampard, we had honest conversations. Man to man, me and him. His ideas of football were different to mine. We just agreed: ‘OK, we move on’. In an honest way, in a mature way. We played together, we won together. We won the Champions League, the Europa League, everything together. It was done in a mature way.”

The appeal to Arsenal was obvious enough. The 32-year-old may not always be the calming influence that they have craved but he is a serial winner with considerably more experience of lifting titles than anyone else at the club. Luiz has won 18 trophies in his career, twice as many as Mesut Ozil, Arsenal’s second most decorated player.

By way of evidence, Luiz proudly reveals a deep indentation on his right hamstring, a permanent mark of the night he played through the pain in the Champions League final of 2012. He knows better than most what it takes to win trophies and is convinced he can win more at Arsenal. He says he would not be here otherwise.

“The more you win, the more you believe, the more it becomes easier,” he says. “It starts to become automatic. You know what you have to do, you know the mentality. It is not about the beginning, it is about the end. Last season everybody was killing Chelsea, killing [Maurizio] Sarri. In the end, we won a title. Everybody was speaking about other clubs and in the end they did not win anything. It is about the end.

“Arsenal was always a big club. The club is always going to be big. Of course, in the last few years, because the club is so big everybody expects more titles. This is natural. I came here because I see they have the potential to do that, to fight for that. This is my mentality, this is my ambition, this is what I want in this club.

“We have the potential. We have talented players, experienced players, a team with quality, a club where they give us all the conditions to fight. We have amazing support. What more do we need?”

<span>David Luiz scored his first Arsenal goal against Bournemouth</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
David Luiz scored his first Arsenal goal against Bournemouth Credit: Getty Images

As a player, Luiz is a man transformed from the freewheeling, wild-eyed defender who became such a cult hero upon his arrival at Chelsea. He has never been one to hide his emotions, and that will never change, but those buccaneering days as a rampaging centre-back are largely over. This is partly because of his own development, he says, but also because of the demands of his respective coaches.

“I had more oxygen before,” he laughs. “I came from Benfica where I was playing like that. I was the best player in the Portuguese league and we won the title in this way. And then I came here in the middle of the season and in the first five games everybody says ‘woah, he is amazing’.

“Now I understand you have to adapt depending on the philosophy of the coach. This is how you learn football. Now I know if a coach asks me to play in this way, I know how. If a coach asks me to play a different way, I would know how.

“Every day you have to be ready to learn. It is not about me and my instincts, it is more about the collective plan. Putting yourself inside this and adapting to this philosophy. The results are collective results, not individual results.”

When he retires, Luiz wants to become a manager. He has worked under some of the best, from Rafa Benitez to Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, and while he has not always seen eye-to-eye with them — another consequence of that strong personality — he has certainly learned from them all.

Luiz is in no rush, though. “I want to be a coach when I am 40. Before that I want to play football as much as I can, at a high level. And that is going to be until I am 36, 37, 38. I work with my body every day. I have people working with me for more than five hours a day. This season my physical numbers are better than when I was 28.”

The decline will inevitably come, as it always does. Until then Luiz will keep being Luiz, embracing each moment and constantly pushing for more. “I am just trying to be me,” he says. “The emotions are going to be real, because I really love this. The day I stop loving football is the day I stop playing.”

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