LUCAS LEIVA: THE SURVIVOR OF MANY SUMMER EXODUS
It’s been 8 long years that I started following Liverpool. Every player from that team has moved on to pastures new. Except for Lucas Leiva, currently the longest serving member of the team? The rumours of Lucas to be transferred surfaces every transfer window and its remarkable how he manages to crawl his way back into the team. Every time fans and Pundits have written him off, he has surprised all of us by coming back even stronger.
This article is dedicated to the shamefully under-appreciated player that Lucas is and why deserves his own place in the History Books of Liverpool FC.
Rafa Benitez signed Lucas from the Brazilian side Gremio where he was plying his trade as an attacking midfielder and hailed him as one of the most talented young footballer of the world. The transfer came off the back of the player captaining the national U-20 side and winning the best player of the Brazilian league. A lot was expected from the player and was tipped to be a success at his new club.
However, things didn’t pan out the way Lucas expected it to be and he struggled to find his way into the team. To be fair to Lucas, only a few midfielders in the world football could have made their way into that midfield considering we had the best midfield in the world comprising of Gerrard, Alonso and Mascherano. It’s harsh to pin the blame on him for failing to make an immediate impact considering the fact that it’s difficult to hit the ground running for a Brazilian making the journey across the ocean to England where the league is notoriously physical and fast paced.
Due to his lackluster and error prone displays, Lucas attracted a lot of criticism from the Anfield faithfuls and failed to win over them. Lucas came in to do the job in the midfield when needed but failed to have a sustained run of eye catching performances. Lucas played second fiddle to the midfield trio of Stevie, Alonso and Masch and covered for them decently. Lucas failed to produce anything of note in his first two years at Anfield and played a bit part role.
The departure of Alonso to Real in the summer of 2009 ensured that Lucas got much more game time as he had to deputise for Alonso at the middle of the park. Inconsistent and ineffective performances infuriated the fans and he was portrayed as one of the prime culprits for an abysmal season for the club which culminated in Rafa leaving the club at the end of the season. He was in the danger from getting shown the doors since the manager whose confidence he enjoyed was no longer there at the club.
With Mascherano gone to Barcelona, it was expected of Lucas to step up to make the defensive midfield position his own. However, he seemed to not be a part of Roy Hodgson’s plan and was replaced by the piss poor player that was Poulsen. Hodgson’s time at the helm saw Liverpool reduced to shambles and witnessed a phase where we briefly flirted with relegation. His reinstatement at the base of midfield followed the appointment of King Kenny as the manager. He had a golden opportunity to redeem himself and nail in on a starting berth in the team. Lucas grabbed it with both hands by putting a string of impressive performances at the base of midfield adding the much needed steel to the team and for the first time in his Anfield career, earning the plaudits of the fans. He won Liverpool’s player of the year for the season, completing a remarkable turnaround.
2011 saw Lucas continuing with a rich vein of form before his season was cruelly cut short by the dreaded ACL injury which would keep him away from playing for a long time and he missed the final of the League cup which we won. The summer saw the departure of King Kenny and the arrival of Brendan Rodgers. Transfer of Joe Allen, emergence of Henderson and withdrawal of Gerrard from an attacking to more defensive position all threatened to undermine his place in the team. Despite this, Lucas managed to make his way into the team and played a big role in that scintillating title push in the 13-14 season. Even in the disappointing 2014-15 season, Liverpool’s unbeaten run coincided with his inclusion in the team.
Just before the conclusion of the summer transfer window of 2015, it looked like Lucas was on his way out with a transfer to Turkish club Besiktas looming over the horizon. However, his strong display against Arsenal convinced Rodgers to stall the transfer. With Klopp’s appointment, pundits and fans alike expected him to not feature in the German’s high octane style of play. As usual, he managed to find his way through, using his versatility to cover at various positions and was a part of the team which reached two cup finals. He has won over Klopp too, which is evident by the fact that his transfer was blocked by the manager to lengthen his stay for a year, at least.
Well, what are the attributes that have kept Lucas going? Two biggest in store in his arsenal are that he unbelievably good in the air given his built and an exceptional reading of the game. As a defensive midfielder, he breaks up attack really well and thwarts counter attacks. Lucas boasts of an admirable work ethic and possesses a steady engine. He always brings defensive solidity to the table and the managers tend to play with him when up against an attacking team with Lucas as a destroyer. He has a lost quite a bit of pace after the knee injuries, but has compensated well with positional sense. One of the most important elements of his game is his tackling. The man was born to tackle. The stats from premier league shows he has made a whopping 945 tackles in the league and comes only second to Barry by a whisker (Barry has played war more matches). He is versatile and seamlessly slotted into central defence when it got hard for chances to come his way. He can play out of the defence and start transitions of defence into attack quickly. He is a good option to see out a match and ensure that the win is sealed.
However, Lucas has always been the one to bear the brunt of the ire of fans which have been rather unfair and harsh at most times. There are fans who believe Lucas exemplifies all that is wrong with Liverpool and how, we as a fan base, have accepted mediocrity. This has to do more with the modern fan’s mentality than a honest criticism of his abilities. In an era only the strikers and wingers grab the headlines, it’s hard for a player of Lucas’s ilk doing the dirty dob to be noticed. Fans will remember an average goal scored by Coutinho. But, how many of us will remember a last ditch tackle to prevent a sure goal? In a team surrounding of flair players, it’s difficult to appreciate Lucas. The fact that he is extremely goals shy has also not helped his cause. It’s difficult for an average fan to judge how good a player sitting in the comforts of his room or even in the stadium. It’s the manager who watches him daily in the training or players who play alongside him are the best judges of the ability. Lucas has impressed all the managers he has played under and all of them have realised how important a player he is. At his prime, before the injury, he was one of the best holding midfielders in the country and it is just harsh to put him in the mediocre category. Lucas should be celebrated for his professionalism, passion and loyalty to Liverpool FC.
It certainly bodes well for the team to have a character in the dressing room that is as passionate for the club as the fans. He is well placed because of his contagious passion to put it out to the youth players what it means to play for that jersey and club of the stature of Liverpool. Lucas is that senior pro whom the younger player should look upon and take lessons from his mentality towards the game. There isn’t a better role model in the team currently who personifies resiliency, grit and determination. He is a leader on and off the pitch and an excellent example of a team player for the youngsters. Let’s not overlook the fact that what a great influence he has been to our Brazilian maestros and Alberto Moreno and been a mentor to them right from their arrival.
The career graph of Lucas will resemble a yo-yo, going down only to come up. He has tackled every setback that has tried take him on, just like on pitch and has always come on the top. It is incredible how he has turned himself into an indispensable part of every team after a very low key start to his Anfield days. He has played under 5 managers and has managed to convince each one of them how he can fit into the team. One terrible start, one career threatening injury, 9858463 tackles, 5 managers later, he is still there, playing for the club he loves.
The law of Natural Selection seemingly holds true in football as well and Lucas’s sojourn with the Liverpool team illustrates this very convincingly. A number of players, arguably much more talented than him have perished while Lucas has stood the test of time, overcoming every injury setbacks, managerial changes and transfer windows. Going on to make 300 appearances at the highest level after a disaster of start to his career in Europe is a testament to the fact that he is a fighter. One who doesn’t sulk, picks himself up and goes on about his business with the minimum fuss.
From being booed by the fans to having his own song sung by the Kopites, Lucas has come a long way. He has become a fan favourite and one of the most lovable bloke among the fans. His contract runs out next year and chances are bleak that he will be offered an extension. But when Lucas will leave Anfield, he has done everything to deserve his own flag, a song about his heroics, a standing ovation and with his head high.
P.S: It would be sad to see the last player from the team when I started supporting Liverpool is gone. Watching Lucas score a goal before he leaves is definitely on my wish list. Lucas, you f**king legend!
(I am a law student and a passionate Reds fan from Bangalore. Didn’t witness the glory days, but they will be back soon anyway.)