The Shrine of Lucas Leiva

The Shrine of Lucas Leiva

By Greg Cooper

When Lucas Leiva joined Liverpool in 2007, Rafa Benitez claimed that “I am looking forward to seeing him score goals for Liverpool”. A hundred and eleven league games later the goal tally stands at one.

Benitez can be forgiven for this outlandish claim though as Lucas was a very different proposition back then, than what he is now. At Gremio, his first club, Lucas was known as trequartista or a “classic number 10” and hailed as the next Kaka by the press. In this role he excelled, winning the Bola de Ouro which is given by the magazine Placar to the best player in Campeinato Brasileiro, with ex-winners such as Romario and Zico the award is not to be sniffed at, especially as Lucas is the prize’s youngest ever winner. However, in Brazil it is easier to play this role than in England, the slow pace and the space and time allowed for sides in Brazil is in stark contrast to what is expected of players in England and Lucas, like any other player, was destined to struggle with this.

While Liverpool never got the player they thought would replace Vladimir Smicer or provide back-up for Luis Garcia, they got a whole lot more. Liverpool’s fans were slow to realise this however. They blamed their poor form on Lucas after the departure Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid. Gareth Barry was supposed to replace Xabi Alonso – another stupid deal but one that made sense; both were well respected internationals after all. When this didn’t happen, Lucas was forced into the limelight in a position he was still fairly unfamiliar with and was immediately compared to Xabi Alonso, a great player, but one that was all together different. It didn’t help that he was in a midfield that included two fan favourites in Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard. Every team needs a scape goat and when Liverpool finshed seventh in 2009/10, Lucas was inevitably it. Lucas was castigated as a “nothing player”, as he just “didn’t do enough”. On one hand this makes me want to take a shit in the middle of the Kop, on the other it is understandable as Liverpool fans have been brought up on the all action ability of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. Another criticism aimed at the Brazilian is that he simply wasn’t Brazilian. There was no flair, no tricks, no mazy dribbles and the Kop just couldn’t understand why not.

Now though they have voted him player of the season. What has changed? You metaphorically ask. After emerging as the only positive from Roy Hodgson’s reign, Lucas is a fan favourite and the manager’s favourite. After all what manager would not like the Brazilian’s mix of unselfishness and hard work. You rarely see Lucas play a misplaced pass, and he has consistently maintained a high pass completion rate, alongside other defensive midfielders like John Obi Mikel. Not only does Lucas keep the ball well, he also wins it an unerringly high amount, an ability to read the game like an “Inverting the Pyramid” reader, mixed with the ability to tackle like good old Bobby Moore, means without him Liverpool are nothing.

As with any defensive midfielder though, they are labelled as “thinking man’s players” or “Guardian readers’ players”, while this is undoubtedly true, Lucas Leiva shouldn’t be. He has proved himself time and time again as one of the better midfielders. In last season’s midfield diamond vs midfield diamond clash against Chelsea, Lucas emerged as the best midfielder on the pitch, this is no mean feat when the other seven midfielders are Frank Lampard, Gerrard, Raul Meireles, Maxi Rodriguez, Michael Essien, Mikel and Nicolas Anelka. The fact that he is holding down a starting place for Brazil should also make people stand up and notice his undoubted quality.

Lucas Leiva has been ridiculed and has risen out of one of the worst periods in Liverpool’s recent history. Now with the Liverpool fans no longer booing but cheering and with Lucas as one of Dalglish’s first names on the team sheet, the non-Brazilian Brazilian will only become more of a cult hero.

You can read more from Greg on his blog It’s A Ball Not A Bomb, follow him on Twitter and you can write your own “The Shrine of” piece for Holding Midfield by using the contact details.

5 thoughts on “The Shrine of Lucas Leiva

  1. Nice piece. It’s been nice to see an increasing number of articles heralding Lucas’s performances over the last year or so. I’d argue that as well as being the standout performer during Hodgson’s time in charge, and continuing to excel under Dalglish, Lucas was probably Liverpool’s most consistent player during 2009/10 (even if, as you point out, his role was largely derided).

    One thing I would say, Lucas’s overall games/goals ratio stands at 168/6. It’s not much more impressive than his league stats alone, but does paint him in a slightly better light.

  2. I remember Lucas being put into the team at the start of his career at Liverpool and as a Liverpool fan I can absolutely understand the discontent that was being felt at the time. Here we were being told that we’d bought one of the brightest prospects in Brazilian football and a traditional trequarista nonetheless, one which we expected to score goals.

    Instead he was thrust into the role of a deep lying holding and passing midfielder. And to the untrained eye he was pretty poor at it. Misplacing passes and not really possessing the all action approach that the much more limited Mascherano had shown.

    And as you say, this was at a time when we’d lost a brilliant passing midfielder in Alonso and his replacement Aquilani wasn’t ready to play and the mantle of replacing him fell to a player who should never have had that level of expectation (it’s amazing how much more patient the fans were with Ngog when it was clear that he was a developing player that shouldn’t be expected to score prolifically).

    What most of these fans failed to pick up on was his great vision, movement and technique, yet this is what has shone through now as he has grown accustomed to the pace of the league and has grown into his role.

    It’s a bit much to say that Liverpool are nothing without him, the same was said about Alonso, Gerrard and Torres yet Liverpool were the second best team from the point Daglish took over last year. Lucas is a great player but he is not the be all and end all of the Liverpool midfield, he’s one piece of the puzzle.

  3. Cheers mate. I think there has been an increasing number of articles because people feel guilty/stupid for taking the piss out of him. Also I did see the other goal stat but I thought I would use the league one for effect.

  4. @mintox obviously they are not nothing but there is no other player that can play the way Lucas does in that squad and so i think his place in the starting line-up is more important than anyone elses in that side. Just as when Xabi Alonso left before, I think Lucas leaving would have the same effect.

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