So David Luiz has gone. No more surging runs from the back, no more free kicks ballooned into Row Z, no more crunching last-minute tackles or calamitous errors. No more songs about having curly hair or letting him have carnal relationships with our partners, and thankfully no more interminable debates at half-time about whether he’s a genius or a liability.
How do you replace a phenomenon like Luiz? It may not be entirely possible to replicate the effect he had on Chelsea – though that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Few players have divided the opinion of the fans as widely as Luiz did, and it might be better for everyone if we settle for a replacement upon whose merits we can come to some accord. Or at least agree on which his best position in the team is.
Assuming we are looking for a straightforward centre-back (as opposed to one who many think plays better in midfield), then the frontrunners are clear. They’re both young, they’re both French, and they’ve both been widely mentioned in connection with Chelsea.
Raphael Varane has caught Jose Mourinho’s eye before, becoming a regular starter at Real Madrid in place of Pepe in The Special One’s last season there. He’s young, talented and may be prepared to spend a season as understudy to the Terry-Cahill partnership. He’s strong, fast and an excellent reader of the game. The only downside – Real would be nuts to let him go. Mind you, this is the club that sold us Makelele in a cut-price deal so you never know.
Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala is the flavour of the month among clubs seeking a new centre-back. Well, flavour of the last 12 months, to be precise. He’s been rumoured to be on the verge of a move to the Premier League since last summer, and while Chelsea appeared to be favourites back then, recently he’s appeared to be heading for Manchester City.
That is, until he gave an interview saying he wasn’t going there and he’d prefer to go to Chelsea because it’s in London – which seemed to indicate he was ours if we want him. Mangala is a monster of a defender, solid as a rock and great in the air. He also scores a fair few goals too. But the interest in him has inflated his price tag to the level you might expect to pay for an established international defender – which Mangala is not. Yet.
There is the possibility that Chelsea have already bought their young, French David Luiz replacement, of course. Kurt Zouma joined us in the January transfer window – a snip at £12.5 million – but has gone under the radar after being immediately loaned back to his former club St Etienne. Zouma is another tough customer with a lot of promise, albeit with a penchant for some worryingly murderous tackles. Once he calms down a little, he may obviate any need to splash any more cash.
And then there are our home-growns. Mourinho must decide what happens next for Nathan Ake, Tomas Kalas and Nathaniel Chalobah. Chalobah really needs a season elsewhere to impress, after a relatively poor year on loan at Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough. Ake almost certainly deserves a loan to a Premier League club or a place in the first-team squad. Kalas seems the furthest advanced of the trio after his impressive league debut against Liverpool – and the likelihood is that he and Zouma will be the main back-ups to the established centre-backs this season.
It does seem as if Chelsea have plenty of options for replacing Luiz in the centre of defence. As for replacing him as a character and as a man that the fans love or hate – that might prove more difficult.