There he was after training, his hands resting on his knees for support, his body drained with exhaustion after a first 90-minute workout with his new team-mates. A maiden squad session at Bayern had clearly taken its toll on winter signing Luiz Gustavo. “It was very different to what I’m used to from Hoffenheim,” the 23-year-old said later as he reflected on an initial taste of life under Louis van Gaal, “but I liked it a lot.”
“We work very hard and intensively right from the off, with short sprint exercises and always with the ball, which is unconventional. But it’s always a bit different when you switch clubs,” commented director of sport Christian Nerlinger, who accompanied the Brazilian from Munich to the training base in Doha the previous evening. “I hope he settles quickly and I’m convinced he’ll be a very valuable player for us.”
The first impressions of the newcomer at work confirmed Nerlinger’s hopes as fully realistic, although Gustavo was also understandably weary by the end. Following his mid-season holiday in Brazil, where he became engaged to his girlfriend Milene on Christmas Day, the player initially flew to Germany to complete his transfer to FCB, and was back in the air on Monday lunchtime for the flight to Qatar.
Before then, Gustavo inked a four and a half year contract, thereby fulfilling a personal dream. “Every player dreams of going to a really big club. A chance like this has been a lifelong dream in my case. If you’re offered the chance, you have to say yes,” he stated. “I was determined to join Bayern, and I reckon the standards are at a much higher level than in Hoffenheim.”
Echoing Van Gaal’s words on Monday, Nerlinger praised the lanky Brazilian’s adaptability: Gustavo is at home in central defence, at full back or in defensive midfield. “We’ve been watching him very closely for the last six months. We’ve seen him fill three different positions, and he was convincing in all of them,” remarked Nerlinger, adding that Luiz Gustavo was “a big personality with exactly the right mentality. I think he’ll be very good for the team.”
Gustavo, describing himself as “a completely normal, calm person,” confirmed that he personally favours a midfield role, but will never issue demands to that effect. “I like whatever position I’m given. What matters is the team. I still have plenty to learn, because there’s a completely different philosophy here. But I think I’ll pick it up very quickly.” Training was different too, the player repeated: “You do a lot more work with the ball here.”
As to his private life, “I read the Bible a lot and pray twice a day,” the family-centred devout Catholic revealed. Professionally, he is prepared to wait patiently for his chance: “I’ll be focused exclusively on myself. I want to do my job well. We have an excellent coach, who knows exactly what’s best for the team,” said Gustavo, who named two of Bayern’s former Brazilian stars as his role models: “Lucio and Zé Roberto. I like their attitude, they always give everything. That's the way I am too.”
Luiz Gustavo and his new team-mates will certainly need to give everything if the second half of the season is to be rated a success. The 23-year-old newcomer is a reserved and modest character, but he was outspoken and ambitious enough when it came to stating his targets this season. “We need to think big. We’re in the Champions League, the Bundesliga race and the DFB Cup. We have a very good team, and we could still win the lot.”