Chelsea signed David Luiz to sell shirts and score on social media
It's easy to understand why Chelsea brought David Luiz back to Stamford Bridge - once you appreciate that his sporting ability was unlikely to be the most significant factor in their decision.
More than a few eyebrows were raised when Chelsea secured a £50m fee to sell Luiz to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2014, with his disastrous display in Brazil’s 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat against Germany days before he arrived in the French capital tarnishing an already dubious reputation.
Luiz is as famous for his calamitous mistakes as he is for match-winning performances and nothing he has done in his two years with PSG has altered the suspicion that he is an accident waiting to happen.
Yet we all need to open our eyes to the hidden factors that come in to play when a club of Chelsea’s stature make a big-money signing, with Luiz a perfect fit for their business even if he has the potential to be a liability in their team.
This is a sportsman who would be described by modern marketing experts as a brand; a walking sponsorship opportunity with a personal Facebook, Twitter and Instagram audience of 50 million.
In fact, Luiz boasts as many social media followers on his own as Chelsea Football Club overall and his new employers would have taken that into account when they invested £30m in a 29-year-old with limited resale value.
In a summer when Man United signed celebrity footballers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, Chelsea’s marketing men would have been itching to capture a marquee name of their own… and Luiz fitted the bill.
Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Willian may be big names in Premier League circles, but they can’t claim to boast the fame rating Luiz commands around the globe.
Luiz is a sporting icon around the world, one of those instantly recognisable faces who fits neatly into the ‘brand ambassador’ mould that is now a pivotal part of the business model Premier League clubs promote.
Luiz is the distinctive face of a variety of high-profile companies around the world, a character who is made for the digital age, with his jovial video clips on Facebook and Instagram complemented by well-timed messages on Twitter.
The images of Luiz in a Chelsea shirt were posted on media channels before the move back to the west London club was confirmed on transfer deadline day, with his PR team in overdrive as they rebranded his accounts in double-quick time.
So while Luiz the sportsman will be on trial when he makes a second Chelsea debut at Swansea this afternoon, we cannot ignore the reality that his importance to the club will stretch well beyond his displays under the guidance of boss Antonio Conte.
Chelsea’s shirt sponsors Yokohama tyres will welcome the chance to have one of the most famous players in world football wearing their logo each week.
Meanwhile, Chelsea’s Asian sponsor Carabao energy drink would have been delighted to have their branding all over the unveiling of Luiz on transfer deadline day.
Of course, his impact on the field will affect his attractiveness to the sponsors involved in this deal and it remains to be seen whether his new boss Conte can shave off Luiz’s calamitous rough edges to transform him into a defender fit to replace John Terry.
His error-strewn displays during his three years at Chelsea led many to conclude that Luiz may be better suited to a role as a holding midfielder, with his impressive range of passing and ability to influence a game with his sheer presence better suited to a more advanced role.
“I started playing three at the back with Vitoria in Brazil, but it doesn’t matter where I play,” says Luiz, as he tries to sum up his best position.
“I want to help and when I am in the team I am there to try to help.
“Our coach is amazing, he understands a lot of tactical things and I know he chooses every match the best line-up, so if he needs to play three, four or two, it doesn’t matter, I am there if he wants me to play.
“I’m excited about what is possible. We don’t have the Champions League, so let’s go for the Premier League and the cups. There is a chance to win trophies this season.”
Luiz’s arrival gives Conte a opportunity to play his favoured back-three defensive line, with the Brazilian joining Gary Cahill, Terry and a soon-to-be fit again Kurt Zouma in a battle for a starting spot.
Conte also experimented with a 4-2-4 formation in Chelsea’s pre-season games, with the 4-1-4-1 line-up he opted for in his opening Premier League fixtures, piling huge pressure on Blues new boy N’Golo Kante in the lone holding midfield role.
Luiz could be deployed alongside Kante in midfield battles against the Premier League’s big-hitters, yet Conte appears determined to mould him into Chelsea’s next great defensive leader.
“I know he can play as a midfielder, but my idea is to utilise him in the right position. For me, he is a centre-back,” states Conte.
“Now we work on the defensive situation and we have to remember these are early days for this Chelsea team and especially for David.
“David Luiz is 29. A fantastic age for him to become one of the best defenders in the world.
“If you think that the players improve only by looking at them, it’s impossible. You must work.
“He played here before and that will help him to settle, but we have to accept that it will take some time to find a balance.”
Luiz does not appear to be the kind of disciplined defender Conte would choose to put his faith in, but the Blues manager would only have been one voice in a discussion over a transfer that has the potential to define Chelsea’s season.
Time will tell whether the glaring flaws he has always shown in his make-up will undermine the commercial benefits of having this divisive personality back at Chelsea.