Douglas Luiz: ‘Unai Emery is very intense in his work, very passionate’

Estimated read time 8 min read

Douglas Luiz could have given up many times during his career. The same football that provided him with a way out of a difficult life in Rio de Janeiro also put him in a complicated situation as soon as he left Brazil for Europe at the age of 18. Bought by Manchester City in 2017, he had his work permit rejected and his dream of success in England was stalled.

“I took that blow, that stab, can you understand? I left Vasco where I played every game and was a team’s star. So I went to Man City and Girona [on loan], and didn’t play that year. That was a stab. That’s a moment when you realise how difficult Europe is, how complicated it is to adapt so quickly. You need time to learn the language, to communicate with your teammates. I fell down, but I worked so hard to bounce back [helped by] my parents and my family,” Douglas Luiz tells the Guardian.

Seven years after the problematic transfer to City and the most difficult period in his career, Douglas Luiz is experiencing a very different moment at Aston Villa, the most significant since his move there in 2019. He was a key player in the latest campaign that returned the club to the Champions League after 41 years, when the competition was still called the European Cup.

One of the major reasons for the improvement of Douglas Luiz is the arrival of Unai Emery. Since he joined in late 2022, the Spanish coach has transformed the Brazilian’s game, and it is clearly he is immensely grateful.

“What he did was simple. He organised my game well with Boubacar Kamara. Kamara’s arrival helped me a lot. He’s a young player I’ve always got on well with, who has always understood my game style. With his arrival, I’ve had more freedom,” explained the midfielder.

“Today I see myself more as a second midfielder than a first. The freedom that Unai has given me with Kamara has made my job a lot easier. You can clearly see that. A good example is Kamara’s injury. After that I had to play further back and I didn’t take part in the attack as much, I didn’t score as many goals as before because I had to help more in a defensive way.”

Douglas Luiz celebrates scoring for Aston Villa.View image in fullscreen

Emery, in addition to honing Douglas Luiz’s playing style, has also instilled confidence in the player, who jokes about the intensity of the Villa manager.

“Unai is a little bit crazy,” he laughs. “I say it because of his sense of intensity. He’s very passionate about what he does. Very intense in his work and in the things he wants. Sometimes it’s quite funny. In that last game against Liverpool, he celebrated Jhon Durán’s goal, he got emotional, said a lot of things and then in the dressing room he looked like a completely different person.

“It’s great to work with him and be part of this moment we’re living. But what I like most about him is that he always tries to understand the athlete’s personal side, the human being. He always calls us to talk in person. I see a lot of clarity in that conversation”

At 26 years old, Douglas Luiz is having the best spell of his career. Last season, he scored nine goals in the Premier League, third in the list of Brazilians with the most goals in the competition, behind only the forwards Matheus Cunha and Richarlison. Are we going to eventually see the description Douglas Luiz top scorer? He believes not.

“Wow, I would like to reach it, but that’s to dream so much,” he laughs again.

More than 30 Brazilians played in the last Premier League campaign, the most of any foreign country. The green and yellow invasion is a very recent change, with two main factors at work.

“It’s the best league in the world. Everyone wants to play here and feel the atmosphere on the pitch. The history of the Premier League is very big. We, Brazilians, are smart enough to know that the Premier League is the best league in the world and everyone wants to feel that emotion, to play for a big club. That’s really cool.”

The second difference is the more professional behaviour of the players themselves, as Douglas Luiz explains.

“I can’t say that my generation is smarter or understands more than others. But the time teaches. We have lots of good and bad examples to analyse and not make the same mistakes. In the past, Brazilians were considered lazy, who didn’t want to run, who didn’t want to mark the opponents. But that has certainly changed. Today, we have a generation that isn’t silly. It’s a smart generation. We’ve seen the mistakes of the past and today we’ve managed to change the way many countries and people looked at us.

“In the Premier League, you have to focus 100% on football. You can’t think about anything else. It’s a league that demands a lot from you daily, in training and matches. That’s the only way to succeed. That’s the secret to success here.”.

More things are happening in Douglas Luiz’s life. One of them is the Brazilian national team. After missing the 2022 World Cup, he was back in the squad for the last four matches and will play in the Copa América with a new group.

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Mature players such as Casemiro, Neymar, Thiago Silva, Ederson and Richarlison are out for various reasons such as injury, poor performance or age. The renewal was not in the plans of the new coach, Dorival Júnior, but it is seen favourably by Douglas Luiz.

Douglas Luiz playing for BrazilView image in fullscreen

“There is a new generation coming. We know that change is normal in Brazil. You can’t rely on Thiago Silva, Casemiro and Neymar for ever. Thiago is a bit older, Neymar and Casemiro were injured. With the players we have, it’s normal to have these renewals. Brazil has many players of great quality. Whoever Dorival chooses will do their best to serve the Seleção”.

The Brazilian team is undergoing renewal, but the supporters demand results and don’t care about the process. Brazil haven’t won the World Cup since 2002, and lost the 2021 Copa América to Argentina, a competition in which Douglas Luiz played just one game and had to witness Emiliano Martínez win the trophy and then put up with many jokes upon the goalkeeper’s return to Aston Villa.

“We’re still choking on that defeat. Losing to Argentina is never good, especially in a final. It’s even worse for me because I lost to Emi Martínez. That weighs on me even more … But it was a healthy joke. It’s normal to have banter in the dressing room.”

Martínez became one of the great characters of the last World Cup to the point that Fifa changed their penalty rules due to the goalkeeper’s provocative style, which Douglas Luiz knows well since 2020, when they started playing together at Villa.

“We only see him like that in games. In training he’s more relaxed. It’s his team, it’s our daily life, it’s different, you know? He provokes his opponents on match day. It’s his strategy to [make] problems for his opponents. He really manages to get into the guys’ heads. As people say at the club, that’s one of his specialities. He has to capitalise on it. But he’s very calm with us.”

The defeat to Argentina still hurts Douglas Luiz, but he is trying to look to the future. In the next edition of the Copa América, he will have an opportunity to write a new story, with the “hermanos” as the toughest opponent again.

There are only five players over 30 in the squad that will play the Copa América. Without Neymar and other experienced players, Douglas Luiz sees an open path to assume a leadership position to try to recover the supporters’ self-esteem.

“When we were younger, we always talked about this day and now our moment has come. We have to do our best and try to recapture that passion that the supporters used to have for the Seleção. We’ve always talked about it. We’re very excited, 100% focused on reversing the situation we’re in today to win the Copa América again.”

The same Copa América that kept Douglas Luiz away from a World Cup now can be the beginning of a new era to make his dream come true. “It’s a pleasure to represent my country. I’m going to focus as much as I can, and do my best so that I can keep going and fulfil my dream of playing at a World Cup. That’s what I want.”


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