The sight of David Luiz tearing around the field, valiantly, and feebly, chasing German heels was held up an illustration that they were right.
He was the fall guy, the face of Brazil’s World Cup 2014 horror show. He faced up to it all, too. In a courageous, though perhaps ill-advised, move, he went in front of the cameras to offer 200 million people an explanation for the inexplicable.
His tears that evening after the Mineirazo became the symbol of an unthinkable collapse and an unrivalled humiliation. David Luiz was the 7-1.
They’d been laughing at him for months. And the jokes went into overdrive when, shortly before the World Cup, he’d completed a £50 million move to PSG – a world record for a defender.
He’d been dismissed in England as a ‘Playstation footballer’ after leading pundit and former Manchester United defender Gary Neville suggested the Chelsea defender’s erratic performances made him look as if he was “being controlled by a 10-year-old” playing a video game.
So, when Chelsea brought Luiz back to London last summer, the move came as quite a shock to the locals.
Another pundit, former Premier League-winner Chris Sutton described it as a “gamble,” insisting Luiz was “a maverick type, I am not so sure about him defensively. Conte has put himself under pressure with this one.
"There are players out there who would be more consistent that Luiz, I would rather go for steady - it is a gamble. He is a talent, but can Conte get the best out of him?"
He’s done that, and then some. Upon his return, Luiz announced that he had “some business to finish.” He’s been all business. On course to lift the Premier League title this season, and with an FA Cup final on the horizon, Luiz has starred in the third meanest defence in the league.
They laughter has stopped. There are no more memes. And Neville is among those – including ‘real football men’, like Harry Redknapp – to offer their admiration for a player reborn.
“Football changes from one day to the next, so I keep my feet on the floor, stay grounded. I keep my humility. Now people are asking me if this is the best form of my career,” Luiz said after being named in the PFA Team of the Year.
“I don’t remember the past, I’m getting old! But I do think I’m playing very well. I’m older and have more experience. I am more mature and I am happy with this. I am playing in a more tactical position. I need to be ready to occupy the space of the others.”
He will now be targeting spaces in the Brazil squad. Luiz has not appeared for his country in over a year, his last runout coming as he struggled to contain Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani as Uruguay fought back from two goals down to earn a draw at the Fonte Nova in World Cup qualifying.
A booking left Luiz suspended for the next match and he was cast aside by then coach Dunga, dropped from the Selecao’s Copa America Centernatio squad completely.
Like Luiz, Brazil have been reborn in recent months, charging to eight consecutive victories under new boss Tite, a run that saw them become the first nation to qualify for World Cup 2018.
But Luiz remains very much on the outside. As Neville told the Metro, "The three at the back suits David Luiz perfectly… He doesn’t suit playing in a back four.”
The problem or Luiz is that the back three doesn’t suit Tite. He found success with the formation in 2001 with Gremio, when the team’s fortunes picked up drastically following a switch to 3-5-2, with Anderson Polga operating as a libero, but that led to the coach being labelled a retranqueiro – suggesting he was too defensive.
He moved to a 4-4-2 man shortly after, finding success with Internacional with a diamond midfield led by Andres D’Alessandro.
He default has since become a 4-2-3-1 and has said he is not comfortable with the mechanics of a three-man defence in contemporary football.
Tite will no doubt refuse to repeat previous mistakes – notably, by Scolari ahead of World Cup 2014 – by believing his work is done with more than one year to go until Russia. Tweaks will be made. David Luiz, however, may not be one of them.