In November 2011, for a day at least, Lucas Leiva would be king. In the views of many, Lucas singlehandedly won the midfield battle against Manchester City, leaving no other than Yaya Toure and David Silva in his wake. Every tackle was followed by an interception, followed by winning a header against the big Ivorian (somehow), followed by an inch-perfect pass.
It was the day all the hard work, all the late evenings in the gym trying to bulk up, all the mental strength to recover from THAT day in Craven Cottage had amounted to. It was, to put it simply, a glorious performance. A week later, Lucas Leiva’s career would hang in the balance.
I wouldn’t say I’m a true believer in destiny, nor the slightly less-defined word ‘faith’, but Lucas’ recent relationship with Manchester City seems a little more than cruel coincidence. The story of Lucas Leiva’s journey from not-so Bongo-Slapping, Samba-Dancing Brazilian Midfielder to defensive midfield enforcer and fan favourite is a well versed one, but one his fans love to hear recited.
Lucas arrived from Gremio, a 20-year-old Brazil under 20 captain. He was – supposedly – and attacking midfielder. In essence he was Liverpool’s first Youtube sensation. Fans couldn’t stop making their minds up on his level of ‘‘Boss’ness’’ after re-watching some ‘Lucas Leiva GOALS & ASSISTS 2006-2007 Brazil’s Next Superstar’ shite video on Youtube. His first season he was okay, notably scoring a belter against non-league side Havant & Waterlooville. He eventually had Sissoko demoted as 5th choice midfielder.. While he wasn’t spectacular, another arrival in Fernando Torres was, perhaps taking the spotlight away from Lucas’ few performances for the year. Slowly, things were beginning to look up. The next season, though, Fulham happened. Everton happened. Some tits decided it was okay to boo him. It all got a bit messy.
He was always going to find it hard playing in that midfield triumvirate of Mascherano, Alonso and Gerrard. When Lucas had arrived, it was assumed he was arriving as an attacking midfielder, thus taking up Gerrard’s position anytime possible. Whatever the reason, his array of skill set for attacking midfield in Brazil never translated to England, maybe they decided that England wasn’t so forgiving for Samba Dancing and stuff like that.
Although in Lucas’ second season he played, albeit sporadically, in a team which came within 4 points of the league title, times were tough. He was booed away at Fulham while he notably gave away a late penalty in the FA Cup against Everton. For many, he was another unmitigated disaster by Rafa, for others, he still had time to turn things around. And there were the very few to claim that he was always going to be a Bongo-Slapping, Samba-Dancing Brazilian Midfielder turned Defensive Midfield Enforcer. With that foresight, you surely shouldn’t be spending your days on twitter, son.
Notably, another nugget of information, or in this case a qoute, that most Liverpool fans will know well, is following the Fulham game, in which he was booed – by some tits, Rafa said: “people just don’t know how good Lucas is.” ..He was right. It wasn’t all bad for Lucas that season though, in March Liverpool played arguably their best game against Manchester United in decades, beating them 4-1 in Old Trafford (I know you all know this all too well), while Lucas was quitely at the heartbeat of the victory.
After Lucas’ seemingly career defining season, came another somewhat indifferent season. Although his form had settled, with there being less notably poor games, rash challenges and wayward passes, Liverpool were playing their worst football in a decade and finished 7th. The man who foresaw greatness for Lucas, who noticed his talents lay at the other side of the midfield spectrum in a defensive role, was duly sacked. Lucas greatest problem in this season, positionally, was not that he was covering for Gerrard in an attacking role like before, but was taking over from Alonso.
Playing beside Mascherano he was expected to drive the ball into Gerrard, Aquilani (remember him, I barely do), Torres et al. It never suited him and this is what enforced the ‘‘he only passes sideways’’ lark. From playing in a position which suddenly seemed alien, succumbing to the boo-boys of Craven Cottage, to taking over the mantle of Xabi Alonso, where he was expected to ping 60 yard passes blindfolded like the Alonso before him. It really wasn’t looking an easy journey for the quiet lad from Dourados.
To cut things as short as possible, the next season, 2010/2011, Mascherano had left, and although Poulsen was bought, he quickly ousted him and made the defensive midfield position his own. When Roy left and Kenny took over he was pretty much a mainstay, his performances becoming ever-more assuring. And toward the end, he even added a little dynamism. In truth, the pinnacle of Kenny’s return, in the league at least, came in late Spring. Lucas, ironically (won’t be having any of that destiny/faith lark) helped Liverpool beat Fulham 5-2, in his favourite ground in the world, Craven Cottage.. After 2 minutes he played a lovely ball over the top which resulted in slick play and a goal from our old friend Maxi.
Although his performance away at Stamford Bridge some months earlier had convinced me he was actually quite a brilliant defensive midfielder, the Fulham game proved to me he had retained at least some of that attacking flair he seemed to leave in Brazil, in the form of driven, accurate passes forward, by-passing the opponents midfield.
The end of the season brought great happiness for the supporters, as Kenny was appointed full-time; yet I can imagine Lucas had a special glint in his eye when he was voted, by the fans, as Liverpool player of the year. Surely things could only get better, god knows he deserved it.
Liverpool began the season quite well under Kenny, keeping well within a place for 4th, and Lucas’ performances were in tune with that of the team – efficient. What happened next though, for the team and for Lucas, was the opposite of that. Liverpool would go on a journey to become the world’s most profligate ever, as it seemed Andy Carroll and Suarez were intent on having a shot-to-goal ratio of 1 million to one, while Lucas would suffer a seemingly innocuous injury which would leave his career hanging in the balance.
There were signs it was coming. A week beforehand Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-1 in Anfield, Lucas again at the heart of all things good in central midfield. He was top of the premier league tackles charts, not far behind in interceptions. Pass completion was very high, while it showed a lot of them passes were going forward too. Long and short. He exuded dynamism. A week later we would go on to put on the performance of his career, again in front of Anfield.
Manchester City came to town, with Silva and Toure looking unstoppable, having recently helped beat United 6-1, in Old Trafford. Again, to try to shorten this, Lucas played the game of his life. Let’s quickly look at his performance in a video here (you can only view if you’re an LFC Online member). Now let’s quickly look at the stats: He made the most passes of a Liverpool player – 75. He played the most accurate passes for a Liverpool player- 69 (92% accuracy). He won best passing accuracy in the opposing half for a Liverpool player -95% (39/41), while he had the best passing accuracy of a Liverpool player in the final third with 94% (15/16). There’s your dynamism.
He was the top tackler on the day, winning 7/7 of his tackles, while he won the most ground duels of every player on the match with 13. He also won most aerial duels in the game (consider he was up against 6ft 3 Toure) with 4. Although the stats are impressive, I’d really advise you to try to watch highlights of his performance somewhere if you can’t access the video, it really was an astounding performance.
A couple of days later, Liverpool met Chelsea again, this time in the league cup. Few mentioned Lucas should have been rested beforehand but who would have know what was to come. He started well but after what seemed a nothing challenge he began to hobble. He went off, but decided to go back on and run it off. After a minute he was on the floor in tears. His knee has gone. He knew it, the fans knew it, and he was stretched off. A section of Chelsea fans booed which made the ordeal all that bit worse. Everyone of the Liverpool disposition was a little bit devastated, no more so than Lucas himself.
So he was out for the season, and Liverpool’s season, in the league at least, began to regress, and it never really improved. He had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and everyone knew it would be a long road back.
After returning 2 months quicker than scheduled, he returned in pre-season. After his first league game back in the disappointing 3-0 loss away to West Brom, arrived Manchester City. It seemed a special day, the sun was shining, the atmosphere almost carnival like. Lucas was set to fact the team where he had been king. How horribly coincidental it would all happen again. After 20 minutes he hobbled off, everyone went silent, it seemed it had happened again. It turned out it was a thing injury, though the specific problem wasn’t clear. A return day of 2 months then became 3.
He returned on December 1st against Southampton and looked decent, making tackles, yet lacking sharpness, which was to be expected. The past 2 months have seen Lucas put in sporadic performances once again. There were good games against Wigan, and some poor games against Villa, Mansfield and Oldham. His last performance, against Arsenal, he looked better, making tackles and interceptions, while his passing had improved to a degree though, if not still lacking sharpness, which again is expected for now.
On Sunday Liverpool will go to the Etihad, where Lucas is set to face Manchester City. The past two games have resulted in long-term injury for Lucas. Before them he put in his finest hour. Faith or coincidence? At Fulham he was at his lowest, a couple of years on, again at Fulham, he convinced me of his all-rounded talents in a dynamic performance. Faith or coincidence?
I may be a dreamer, but I couldn’t honestly say I’m a man of faith. Lucas’ career so far has been set on a windy set of rising from the dark like a phoenix, only to fall ill of injury, twice. What lies next in the career of the fans favourite Lucas Leiva remains unclear. Whether he will play the same again unknown. What is known for sure though, is the support he’ll get from the fans. Many made the big mistake once in doubting him, surely no one will do it again.