Luiz Gustavo: The curious case of the marginalised Brazilian engine

As Josep Guardiola settles on his Bayern Munich squad to begin life after the imperious success of Jupp Heynckes, it appears that will be little room for one of the integral members of the last regime. The new Guardiola-driven Bayern machine descends on the new German season with the Spaniard’s midfield taking shape, and Heynckes’s dependent Brazilian Luiz Gustavo is set to play the role of outcast.

The transition from Heynckes to Guardiola is likely to be marked by a shift to the former Barcelona man’s favoured 4-3-3, abandoning the axis of Schweinsteiger and Gustavo on which Heynckes built his imposing side. Javi Martinez will be used as the deep-lying ball-winner, the role Sergio Busquets was entrusted to at Barcelona. Ahead of him, new €25 million signing Thiago Alcantara, crafted to be the next Xavi under Guardiola in Catalonia, is likely to rotate with Schweinsteiger. The majestic Mario Gotze, signed for £35 million from Borussia Dortmund, will play at the tip of a fearsome trio.

That will leave no room for Luiz Gustavo, the midfielder who made 22 appearances in the Bundesliga last season and a total of 36 in all competitions. It was a surprising announcement from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge that Bayern were considering selling the 26 year old, and surprising still that the sale was in relation to VFL Wolfsburg, seemingly the only genuinely implicated party.

Chelsea have been linked with a move for Gustavo, yet they have swelled their midfield with the signing of Marco Van Ginkel to add to Frank Lampard, Ramires and John Obi Mikel. So it appeared Wolfsburg, a side who finished eleventh in the Bundesliga last season after a period of steady decline since winning their only Bundesliga title in 2009, were set to get their man. Managing director Mike Schuessler had confirmed their involvement and despite Rummenigge’s claim that enquiries were being fielded from across Europe, the only tangible interest appeared to be emanating from Wolfsburg.

Gustavo has appeared over 100 times for Bayern since joining the Bavarians in 2010 and it is testament to his quality in centre midfield, a game styled around strong physique and fierce energy, that he has so far been a permanent fixture in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil squad. Gustavo played every single minute of Brazil’s successful summer Confederations Cup, including the final against Spain in which him and Paulinho provided a rock-solid foundation on which the mercurial Neymar and Oscar could seize the freedom to roam forwards.

It is a role that Gustavo did with similar effect with Bayern, utilising his tenacity and gifted reading of the game to break up play and loosen the restrictions on the excellent attacking talent Heynckes had available. He is also an assured passer, finishing the season with a 93% pass completion rate, but his game remains centred around his fondness for a tackle, registering 50 fouls across all competitions, the highest number for a Bundesliga player. However, he only picked up 6 yellow cards, indicating his strong discipline and prowess in the challenge.

It is no coincidence that Bayern reached two Champions League finals during Gustavo’s time at the Allianz, so efficient and diligent is his job in patrolling the areas in front of his defence that it is difficult to understand why it has been only Wolfsburg, a side who can’t offer European football next season, are the only team glancing their eyes in the direction of the Brazilian.

Another potential destination for Gustavo may come in the form of Arsenal, a club that has so far laid dormant in this summer’s transfer window but will be looking for reinforcements as the clock ticks down to deadline day. The Gunners have been in need of a combative holding midfielder for some time and Gustavo would fit that bill, offering the solid platform on which Mikel Arteta or Jack Wilshere can perform next to him. The Brazilian would also placate Arsene Wenger’s philosophy of financial prudence given how Rummenigge has previously made it clear Bayern would be willing to sell due to the surplus of midfielders available to Guardiola in Bavaria.

The midfielder, perhaps in need of a move away from Bayern to maintain his hopes of appearing in his home World Cup next summer, would represent great value for Arsenal as well as the logical signing for a player still to reach his peak. Despite only being 26, it is suggestive of Gustavo’s quality that he has experienced winning a brilliant treble with Bayern and he will take the know-how he has picked up from such big occasions with him should he leave Guardiola’s bright new era.

As this summer’s transfer window has been dominated by the big money and the headline names across Europe, it is alarming that a superbly gifted midfielder is being allowed to slip under the spotlight to the extent he is effectively being ignored.

Should Wolfsburg get their man he would represent a fantastic coup, as well as sending a tinge of regret down the spines of Europe’s top clubs, Wenger should strive to ensure that disappointment doesn’t apply to him.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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