The Brazilian midfielder returns to the Etihad Stadium with Aston Villa after rules stopped him appearing for the Premier League champions
Had things worked out differently, Douglas Luiz could have been lining up for Manchester City rather than Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow.
The Brazilian midfielder was spotted playing for Vasco Da Gama as a teenager by the same City scouts that tracked future superstar Gabriel Jesus before his move from Palmeiras.
But after completing a £10 million move to City in 2017, Luiz never had the opportunity to show just what he could do.
He was turned down for a work permit and spent next two seasons in Spain, on loan at City’s sister club Girona.
It was hugely frustrating for the club, the soccer professional and manager Pep Guardiola, particularly last season.
Sources say that Luiz was hugely impressive in training and friendlies against Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich on the preseason tour to the United States.
Guardiola had earmarked him to be part of his squad as he was short of options in the holding midfield role after top summer target Jorginho opted to join Chelsea.
But rules on work permits were changed in 2015 to ensure that only the most talented non-European Union players met strict criteria and he was not a full international, which did not help his case.
Guardiola and Brazil coach Tite even sent detailed videos to the UK Home Office explaining why Luiz would be important to his side but the application was turned down.
The City boss feels it was particularly tough for Luiz to not have the opportunity to train with his team-mates in Manchester and to have the chance to show whether he was good enough.
“It was especially [frustrating] for him,” Guardiola said ahead of Saturday’s clash.
“Because of the work permit, it was not allowed.
“We paid money to have him but the rules say he doesn’t have enough quality to play here in England. So he could not play.”
Luiz made 38 appearances in La Liga over his two seasons there and took another step forward in his development when he was named the best soccer professional at the prestigious Toulon Tournament with Brazil in the summer.
It persuaded Villa to spend £15m on the 21-year-old – a healthy profit for City on a soccer professional that had not made a first-team appearance.
Luiz returned to Rio de Janeiro as he waited anxiously to hear whether a work permit would be granted to play for the newly-promoted side.
Despite still not playing for the national team, the Exceptions Panel cleared him to work as the size of his transfer fee and salary showed his extra value to the club.
It prompted Guardiola to tell Villa boss Dean Smith “You’ve got a really good lad there,” when the two met at the League Managers’ meeting in London in August.
But a chance of playing for City could yet materialise.
The Premier League champions have a buyback clause in his contract.
And City will activate it if they are sufficiently impressed with his performances, just as they did with Spanish left-back Angelino in the summer.
“We have an option to get him back but sometimes life has been like this,” Guardiola said.
“We wanted him because last season we had problems in that position because we didn’t buy a holding midfielder.
“We wanted him before so we thought about it, but the rules with the work permit meant it was not possible.
“I thought he would be here with the pre-season he played last year in the States, he was really good. I think he had the quality to play with us but he could not do it.
“The talent has been always there. We’ll see at the end of the season what his level has been but the quality has been always there.”
Luiz has made three starts for Villa so far, scoring an outstanding goal in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth early in the season.
But he has been more likely to come off the bench at the Etihad Stadium having not started a game since August.
Ironically, he could have had more chance of being in City’s starting line-up had he still been at the club.
They are without Rodri until after the international break while fellow holding midfielder Fernandinho has been playing at centre-back in recent weeks to plug an injury crisis in the heart of the defence.
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Unfortunately for Luiz, he never got the opportunity to fully show Guardiola what he was capable of.
“I don’t know, it’s hypothetical,” the City boss said. “Now he’s playing for Aston Villa.
“I would say that if he had got a work permit two years ago that it would be possible. Now it’s fantasy.”