Lucas Leiva's Liverpool Legacy

Alex Livesey

In a wonderfully candid 'chat' with Jan Molby, Lucas Leiva has been comparing notes on difficult starts, career-threatening injuries and winning over The Kop.

"No legacy is so rich as honesty."

William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well

An early declaration: I love Lucas. My affection for the guy is none of your arriviste, Johnny-come-lately twaddle. I've genuinely liked the kid from the start and if that sounds smug, well so be it - my wife tells me smug is a thing I do well. My admiration stems from the fact that this is a player who has reinvented himself completely and overcome immense adversity to emerge as one of the world's finest holding midfielders and an inspiration to his young colleagues.

Of course, like many rational Redmen, I was frustrated by his early form but it was clear the kid was trying to reinvent his game in a new league and a new country whilst trying to half-inch a midfield berth from Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano or Momo Sissoko. There have been easier tasks.

Lucas fell prey to something a little bit ugly, something we don't like to talk about at Liverpool. It's not often it happens, and all standard disclaimers about 'the most knowledgeable fans in football' apply, but the crowd turned on him. The more the Anfield moaners got on his back, however, the more I wanted him to succeed. Sadly, for all of the reasons already cited, this was a long process.

Having arrived in Liverpool as a highly promising attacking midfielder - the youngest ever recipient of the Bola D'Ouro in the Campeonato Brasileiro - Lucas was forced to adapt his game dramatically for the Premier League with the encouragement of Rafa Benitez.

"The way the Premier League is with the pace of the game and everything, I couldn't do that," Lucas said in an interview with Jan Molby. "I couldn't do it, so I just felt, 'Listen, you have to understand that the league is different. If you want to be successful, you have to change.' A holding position was a position I felt more comfortable in. Rafa just played me there for a few games and then I started to adapt and play some good games."

It was really only with the departure of Alonso that Leiva got his chance. True, he'd made 39 appearances in the previous campaign and started to prove his worth but in the final season of Benitez's tenure Lucas shone. He played half a century of games as first choice in the middle and his form was excellent. The remarkable turnaround was afoot.

"It was more pressure but I got the chance to play more games," said Leiva of that third season. "In the first two seasons I was playing but not very often and I used to play 15, maybe 20 games but coming on as a substitue from the bench is not the same. So the third season, when Alonso left, I knew the pressure was so high, but I had the chance."

It is to his eternal credit that he seized that opportunity because even then, the odds were stacked against the Brazilian. Alberto Aquilani had been signed, an indication for Lucas that the club "didn't even remember [him] at that time," but the Italian was unable to claim a spot so our number 21 "just played, played and played."

If the fans were being won around, the club hierarchy, it seems, were not. As 2010/2011 kicked off, and in the absence of his greatest champion, Benitez, Lucas faced more uncertainty. The club signed Christian Poulsen, something the Brazilian interpreted as a "message that [he] was not really in the plans." It will gall those that did not know at the time to hear that, with offers on the table from Italy, he was "really close to leaving."

Thankfully, what seemed to be a move driven by Christian Purslow, failed to work out. Leiva stayed. This time it was an injury to Gerrard that meant he got his place and again, his form dictated that he kept it. Indeed, he finished that campaign, lauded regularly by his new manager Kenny Dalglish and the winner of the fans' player of the year award.

As we know only too well, just as Lucas was finally established as a world class performer under Dalglish, fate dealt the young Brazilian another bum hand. An ACL injury robbed Liverpool of his tremendous talents for the second half of the 2011/2012 season and his comeback under Brendan Rodgers this campaign was also hampered, this time by a thigh problem.

In recent weeks, however, Lucas Leiva is back to something like his imperious best and it was heartwarming to hear him talk about helping Jordan Henderson, a recent victim of the Anfield moaners, through his difficult time. This man is a leader in the squad, Gerrard's natural successor.

To hear Lucas speak so calmly and without bitterness about the "unfair" pressure and criticism he received from the fans and his colleagues in the dressing room, is inspiring and heartbreaking in equal measures. His progress and determination against incredible odds are humbling to ponder.

My dearest wish is that, like Molby, he can win the title with Liverpool Football Club. It would be a fitting testament to his efforts. Finally, if there are any amongst you still not bellowing lustily along to the Lucas Leiva song whenever you can, here's an educational video to clue you in.

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