LONDON -- Antonio Conte insists that Chelsea always believed in David Luiz's capability to be one of the world's best defenders, despite widespread surprise at the decision to re-sign him from Paris Saint-Germain for £34 million last August.
The acquisition of Luiz on the final day of last summer's transfer window was interpreted by many as a panic buy, after Chelsea had been left frustrated in their attempts to secure a number of centre-back targets from Serie A, including Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly and AC Milan's Alessio Romagnoli.
A bullish Conte claimed at the time that the 29-year-old was "a fantastic age to become one of the best defenders in the world," and Luiz has since emerged as a composed and cultured presence at the heart of a back three in Chelsea's 3-4-3 system.
It has been a remarkable transformation for Luiz, once described by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville as resembling a player "being controlled by a 10-year-old on a Playstation," but Conte says he always recognised the Brazilian's ability to become a key figure in his plans.
"I read in the newspapers a lot of bad considerations, saying we had spent a lot of money on him and, in the past, he hadn't been very good as a defender," Conte said of Luiz. "For this reason, he had played as a midfielder. I heard a lot of these things.
"But when we decided to buy him, to take him back, we were sure. We were sure we were taking a really good player and [were ready to] put him again as one of the best defenders in Europe and, I hope, in the world.
"This was a great challenge for him, but also for me. For me. Because I think when you have great ability for your players, and you can work to try and improve some situations, it's great. You can see that David, for sure, is a really strong defender.
"I like, always, to tell him that it's very important to have the right concentration. His role is a crucial role for us, and I think he has performed very well. But I want him to perform very well for the rest of the season."
Conte believes Luiz has settled into the ideal role as the middle defender in Chelsea's back three, tasked with covering his fellow centre-backs and initiating attacks with his impressive range of passing and assurance driving forward with the ball at his feet.
"I think this position is perfect for David, to play as a central player in three defenders," Conte added. "This is the best position for him because he has good technique, he's strong, he can start our possession and the personality to do this.
"And he also has two really good defenders at his side, in Gary [Cahill] and Azpi [Cesar Azpilicueta] or [Kurt] Zouma or [Nathan] Ake or John [Terry]. This position is fantastic for him. He's performing very well.
"But I repeat: I like always to push him because the season hasn't finished yet. For us, it's very important for us to keep the right concentration until the end."