Luiz Gustavo made a total of 245 Bundesliga appearances with Hoffenheim, Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg during his 10-year stay in Germany. - © © imago
Luiz Gustavo made a total of 245 Bundesliga appearances with Hoffenheim, Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg during his 10-year stay in Germany. - © © imago

Luiz Gustavo: the beating heart of Marseille's midfield, made in the Bundesliga

"Luiz Gustavo, from Marseille to Janeiro!" goes the chant, to the tune of Gala's 'Freed From Desire' – and yet there is no mistaking where the new boss of the Olympique de Marseille midfield became the star he is today: in the Bundesliga.

Gustavo joined Hoffenheim in the summer of 2007 on loan from Brazilian side Corinthians, and would go on to spend a decade in Germany, making at least 100 appearances for TSG, Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg. By the time he made the switch to Ligue 1 in 2017, he had won one Bundesliga title, the UEFA Champions League and two DFB Cups.

As the 30-year-old Brazil midfielder gears up for Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final against Atletico Madrid, takes a look back at his formative years on German soil…

Watch: Gustavo's Top 5 Bundesliga goals!

Humble beginnings

The Brazilian was an anonymous 20-year-old when he arrived at Hoffenheim ahead of the 2007/08 season. Thanks to the investment of chief financial backer Dietmar Hopp, the ambitious Sinsheim club had just been promoted to Bundesliga 2, and had their sights set firmly on the Bundesliga. Experienced coach Ralf Rangnick was given the task of assembling a side who could not only reach the top flight but compete with the top dogs, and Gustavo turned out to be one of his shrewdest acquisitions.

Deployed at either left-back or in his preferred position ahead of the defence, Gustavo helped TSG win promotion in his first season, and after his deal was made permanent he continued to play a vital role as a midfield enforcer – even if his contribution sometimes went unnoticed. When new boys Hoffenheim took the Bundesliga by storm in 2008/09, finishing the first half of the season top of the table, the headlines were reserved for the goalscorers; the likes of Vedad Ibisevic, Demba Ba, Chinedu Obasi and Sejad Salihovic.

Gustavo was always there though, incessantly running around, harrying the opposition and winning back possession. His aggressive, full-blooded style saw him pick up no fewer than 23 yellow cards in those first two seasons, while he was sent off in games against Cologne and Karlsruher. To this day he is the joint holder of the all-time Bundesliga record for red cards: a total of eight in 245 appearances.

Gustavo began his Bundesliga career with Hoffenheim having helped them to win promotion to the top flight. - © imago

Success with Bayern and Brazil

Though Hoffenheim ran out of steam and slipped into mid-table anonymity in the following seasons, Gustavo continued to stand out – and in January 2011 he was snapped up by Bayern. The champions were set to lose their Bundesliga crown to Jürgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund in their second season under Louis van Gaal, although the Dutchman had a considerable influence on Gustavo in their short time together.

"He was the one who brought me to Bayern, and there was an incredible team at the time," Gustavo told L'Équipe Magazine. "In my position, there was already Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Louis van Gaal was very honest, he said 'I've got these two guys, and you. What are you going to do in order to play?' I told him I would earn my place, and I soon understood that the harder you worked, the more he was willing to help. At the end of the day, he came to see me and gave me advice on how to improve. I ended up playing 16 games for him, in every kind of position – left-back, centre-back. He was essential."

Only three months later, Van Gaal was replaced by Jupp Heynckes, who continued to use Gustavo on a regular basis in defensive midfield. The Brazilian made a total of 46 appearances in the 2011/12 campaign, which ended in heartbreak for Bayern: not only did they finish second in the Bundesliga, they also lost the DFB Cup final to Dortmund and the Champions League final to Chelsea on home soil. Gustavo, booked in the semi-final win over Real Madrid, was suspended for the showdown with the Blues at the Allianz Arena.

Luiz Gustavo celebrated his one and only Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich in style. - © imago

Bayern bounced back spectacularly to strike gold in 2012/13, as they became the first German side to complete the remarkable treble of Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League. Though he began the campaign as a first-choice defensive midfielder alongside Schweinsteiger – with Kroos further up the pitch – Gustavo was sidelined for nearly three months with a groin injury, and found himself competing with Javi Martinez in the latter stages of the campaign.

In the summer of 2013, fresh from helping Bayern secure the treble, Gustavo also won the FIFA Confederations Cup with Brazil. Having made his debut for the Seleção in August 2011, he played every minute as the hosts beat world champions Spain 3-0 in the final. Gustavo was also selected for the World Cup the following summer, although he was part of the collective shipwreck that saw his former Bayern teammates Kroos and Thomas Müller inspire Germany to that devastating 7-1 semi-final win in Belo Horizonte.

The arrival of Pep Guardiola in place of Heynckes spelled the end of Gustavo's time in Bavaria. In the summer of 2013, he joined Wolfsburg, although he was left nursing some regrets about how things ended with the record champions.

Gustavo scored as Wolfsburg beat Borussia Dortmund to win the DFB Cup in 2015. - © imago

Dances with Wolves

Gustavo went on to spend four seasons with Wolfsburg, making more appearances for the club (142) than with either Hoffenheim (109) or Bayern (100) – although he and the Wolves enjoyed rather mixed fortunes in his last two campaigns. Things got off to a bright start, though: in 2013/14 the team finished fifth and qualified for the Europa League, while in 2014/15 they came second behind Bayern and won the DFB Cup. Gustavo scored four goals in the successful Cup campaign, including the equaliser in the 3-1 final win over Dortmund.

Gustavo captained Wolfsburg as they survived relegation in a play-off against Eintracht Braunschweig in 2017. - © imago

Due to a series of injury niggles, the Brazilian only made 30 appearances in all competitions the following season, as Wolfsburg slipped down to eighth place. In 2016/17, the club required a relegation play-off win over local rivals Eintracht Braunschweig to prolong their 20-year stay in the Bundesliga. Struggling to find form and motivation, and distracted by off-the-field matters, Gustavo confided to coach Valerien Ismaël that he was no longer enjoying his football.  

"It's true," he admitted. "Ismaël's stint with us was brief but intense, he helped us as best he could. He was in charge during a particularly difficult moment in my life. There were certain situations in the club that I couldn't accept, so I returned home to recharge my batteries and come back with greater desire."

One of the most experienced players in the Wolfsburg dressing room, Gustavo regularly wore the captain's armband during his final season – although he made headlines for the wrong reasons after getting sent off in a 6-0 defeat to former club Bayern, which saw him join Jens Nowotny on eight Bundesliga red cards. Ultimately though, he ended his 10-year Bundesliga stay on a high note, captaining the Wolves to victory in their vital double-header against Braunschweig.

Gustavo came up against RB Leipzig in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals this season. - © imago

La renaissance

"I could have made a different choice, gone to a club with less pressure, or stayed in my comfort zone in Germany," he said. "But I needed a challenge. Everyone around me was saying, 'If you go to Marseille, you'll have to be prepared!' I knew it was risky, but also that the risk factor could really help me excel – and that's exactly what happened. Marseille has given me back the joy and the pleasure of doing my job, in the best possible way."

Gustavo has emerged as the true leader he threatened to become for many years in the Bundesliga. He has systematically taken over the captain's armband in the absence of skipper Payet, and his blend of tactical intelligence, passing ability and physicality have turned out to be the missing pieces in the Marseille puzzle. He has also provided cover in central defence in the absences of Rolando and Adil Rami, helping OM contain RB Leipzig and sister club Salzburg to reach the Europa League final.  

"Luiz is a very intelligent player with technical, tactical and physical qualities that are well above average," explained Garcia. "He's a leader. He does a very good job at playing out from the back. In fact, he can play anywhere as long as he's in the middle of the pitch."

No stranger to adversity – he lost his mother when he was 16, while his grandmother died in October – Gustavo has risen to meet challenges throughout his career, and the ex-Hoffenheim, Bayern and Wolfsburg man perhaps needed a change of scenery to finally earn the recognition that has long eluded him. Made in the Bundesliga and now firing on all cylinders in France, the Brazil midfielder may still have some of the biggest moments of his career ahead of him.   

Andy Smith