Love is in the air… Lucas Leiva…
December 13, 2010 30 Comments
It’s the ninetieth minute of the derby. The club’s legendary captain and best player has already been hauled off in a brave but controversial decision to hand a league debut to a young, 20 year old midfielder. However, in the last minute the young lad pounces and secures a late, great, famous victory for his side against their biggest rivals. As you can imagine the lad becomes an instant hero and would go on to great things naturally being a fan favourite from the off and remaining one for years to come. Roy of the Rovers stuff, eh?
It’s actually Lucas of Liverpool stuff. Or it would have been if it wasn’t for that pesky Phil Neville. Instead, foreshadowing Luis Suarez’s far more famous yet equally cruel handball against Ghana in the World Cup 2010, the less talented of the two odious brothers punched it off the line. In this alternative world known as reality, Dirk Kuyt stood up, slotted away the penalty and his second goal of the game to become the hero. Meanwhile Lucas quietly faded into the background whilst his manager oddly received criticism for the substitution that ultimately won the game. Soon Lucas was shamefully booed by a small section of his own fans in what he described as one of his lowest points. His first goal, a great curling shot it must be said, instead came a few weeks later in the less romantic (for him anyway) FA Cup tie against minnows Havant & Waterlooville.
Lucas Leiva hasn’t always won everyone over. However whilst playing for Gremio, at just 19, he was the youngest Brazilian player to win The Bola de Ouro (The Brazilian Championship’s Footballer of the year award) . He also has his share of admirers including two times La Liga and Champions League winning coach Rafa Benitez. Oh and Brazilian midfield legend Dunga is also a big fan. However, for a long time much of the media and armchair supporters were simply not fans. Neither it turns out was fairly clueless CEO Christian Purslow who apparently recommended his sale to new manager Roy Hodgson. Lucas though has always been up against it. He progressed into the side just as Xabi Alonso left in his prime and also as Liverpool generally fell apart in the 09/10 season for various reasons. If you actually watched the football it was clear that the problem was definitely not Lucas but if you didn’t, and you watched Sky and read the tabloids, it apparently was. Last season Jamie Redknapp pulled out a marvellous moment of punditry excellence when he said Liverpool were struggling because they missed Alonso, highlighting Xabi’s fine performance in the 4-1 victory at Old Trafford as a case in point. Of course, Alonso didn’t play that game. The man dominating the midfield was Lucas Leiva. Liverpool’s number 21.
He is turning out to be Liverpool’s Darren Fletcher. The butt of jokes from many who either haven’t watched him properly or have no understanding on the game of football, he is now turning into an integral part of both his club and international sides. Some reports showed that in Liverpool’s first away win of the season- and the time of writing only so far- Lucas attempted 48 passes. That is more than any of Liverpool’s other midfield players and he completed 46 of them. This is a staggering 96% of his passes, which compared favourably with his more respected midfield partners Steven Gerrard (72%), Raul Meireles (80%) and Joe Cole (76%). Before anybody says it, the passes weren’t all sideways and backwards either- one led to the only goal of the game. He also attempted 12 tackles; the other three combined made just 13 between them. That’s just one example though, he’s been doing it all season.
So the quiet, unassuming Brazilian has been Liverpool’s star performer for a while now and has, it finally seems, proven his critics wrong. The signs were there last year and at just 23 years of age there’s still plenty of time for him to further develop and win over even the most stubborn and ardent of his detractors. At £5.5m he may well turn out to be one of Benitez’s most astute and inspired signings. All of this for a third of the price of Anderson. Maybe the last word should not be from me, but from the man who signed him.
“People just don’t know how good Lucas is. He is a fantastic player, he was captain of his club side at 19 and has already won full caps with Brazil. Not just any country, but Brazil. He has captained their under-21s and their Olympic team.” Rafael Benitez (December 2008)
By Alex Davis (please let me know what you think, by commenting and rating this article)