Watching the club's pre-season build-up, there cannot be many Liverpool fans who don't wince at the beginning of the match when the game enlivens and the tackles start to thud and crepitate around the middle of the park -- for that is the domain of Lucas Leiva; a man so unfortunate with recent injuries that one still feels the urge to cosset him. Yet, and whisper it, with a complete pre-season programme behind him, on top of the solid run to the end of last season, the player seems to have finally recaptured the physical fitness that was drained from his body by a damaged anterior cruciate ligament and a torn thigh.
The recruitment drive thus far has not seen any cover arrive for the defensive midfield position, nor have there been so much as whisperings of potential arrivals who might alleviate that particular burden on the incumbents. Brendan Rodgers seems to be convinced that between Lucas, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen, he has the personnel required to get the job done. Many will disagree, but the problem is that there are not many players like Lucas Leiva out there who would want to be involved in a covering capacity.
About to begin his seventh season at Anfield, Lucas is in buoyant form, as he contemplates the possibility of an injury-free run in the heart of Liverpool's midfield. The Brazilian knows all too well that this may be his last chance at representing his country in the World Cup and few would begrudge one of football's truly decent men that particular honour, which is made all the more poignant by the tournament taking place in his homeland. He is, however, primarily focused on Liverpool Football Club and cognisant of the significance of the season ahead in the club's, and his own, development.
"Every season is important but this one is especially key for me," explained the midfield maestro. "Last season was about getting games and trying to put my two bad injuries behind me. I had been out for one year, so it's not easy to get back to the level I was at, especially after the second injury when I couldn't do much because of the muscle problem. I had to be patient. In the last six months of the season I just had to get through the games and the training sessions. Now it's a different challenge for me. I'm feeling really sharp and at 100%. I can feel the difference already in pre-season."
This is encouraging stuff for Reds fans, who last season were faced with the unfamiliar spectacle of Lucas trailing in the wake of marauding opposition midfielders. If anything, his range of passing had improved but the Brazilian's mobility was noticeably impaired. The thoughts of a fully fit Lucas is as massively inspiring as the man's performances tend to be. His dedication and professionalism are to be greatly admired and should he return to his pre-injury form Liverpool will reap tremendous benefits, as may Luiz Felipe Scolari.
"It's always difficult to be in the squad for Brazil because there are so many players competing for those places," reasoned Leiva. "Brazil winning the Confederations Cup makes it even harder to get back there. But I was involved in almost every game before my knee injury. If I get the chance I will try to impress and get my place back."
Always a calm and thoughtful man, Leiva noted the rioting and disquiet in his country with a degree of sympathy and understanding. This has been interpreted as an indicator that the Brazilian people are against the World Cup but Lucas believes "it's just that the people want a lot of things to change." In a country where poverty is rife, there is understandable frustration amongst the populace about the obscene amounts being lavished on new stadiums; money Leiva feels could probably have been "used for other things." Fiercely patriotic, Lucas acknowledges that his homeland has "many problems" but, for him, it remains a "great country," whose denizens deserve "a better life."
The midfielder's concern for his fellow man is not restricted to his countrymen alone. Showing a tremendous generosity of spirit and the hallmark of a true leader, Lucas has made it his business to assume a kind of caring, paternal role in the Liverpool squad. He has combined his own diligent preparation with acting as interpreter for the new arrivals and liaising between them and the coaching staff. All this, in a language he learned whilst at Anfield.
"I always try to make the new players feel comfortable," offered the potential vice-captain. "I was lucky to learn Spanish in Liverpool, so I can translate a bit for them. I know how difficult it is to change countries and adapt to a different style of football. They have joined a big club, so the pressure is always there."
Lucas praised the "quality" of Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto and explained that he takes it upon himself to be "the link between the staff and the players because it's important for them to feel welcome so they can produce on the pitch." Leadership, indeed. The Brazilian also noted the experience and knowledge of the Premier League that Kolo Touré and Simon Mignolet will bring to the team.
His thoughts on his friend Luis Suarez were typically loyal, as he expressed his hope that the Uruguayan would stay but refused to condemn him for considering his options. Leiva understands something of the tenuous connections between clubs and players after all, having been almost dumped by the club on Christian Purslow's watch.
"Luis was our best player last season and is very important to us," insisted the midfielder. "Of course we want him to keep playing for Liverpool. It will be important if he stays as we've seen how much of a difference he makes for us. We hope there will be a happy ending for everyone and he repeats those performances for us this season. I am very close to Luis and our families are together almost every week. I've spoken with him a few times over the summer. I try not to ask him too much about his future, as when you are close to someone, it's always hard to give an opinion."
Lucas Leiva -- loyal friend, midfield warrior and leader of men. Brendan Rodgers is blessed to have such a player in his ranks, especially in the wake of Jamie Carragher's retirement. Perhaps, the most appropriate way to acknowledge the Brazilian's elevated status would be to appoint him vice-captain with a view to him assuming the top job when Steven Gerrard eventually steps aside. Others have valid claims, but in the week when England's media is consuming itself over the arrival of a royal nipper, Lucas is surely the real heir apparent.