Lucas is Liverpool class. There, I've said it. Full stop, no caveats. No ifs, ands, or buts. He's good enough for LFC, and moreover he's good enough to be a starter in trophy winning sides in the future, assuming the club as a whole can get back to the point where it can seriously challenge for trophies.
I went on at length about the role of the modern deep lying midfielder--whether you choose to call him defensive or holding or covering--in my attempt at writing the 4-2-3-1 bible* last month, and elsewhere on the 'tubes others more widely read have taken great pains to deconstruct the the oft misunderstood modern midfielder. Nobody needs another six thousand words today to hammer at a subject that's been given thorough discussion recently. However, there seems a need to at least float the general subject once again on the back of two Man of the Match caliber performances on the bounce for Lucas Leiva.
Somehow, though, even after a pair of top class showings at club level and signs of solidifying a spot with his national side in a similar role, there are those so blinded by their adherence to pre-historic and individualistic football that still all they see is a flashing neon "NOT GOOD ENOUGH" come flooding into their vision when the words "Lucas" and "Liverpool" come within five feet of each other.
Certainly those who see Lucas as being good enough to do a job for the club aren't saying he's the best player who has ever taken to a pitch. Perhaps Bastian Schweinsteiger, though five years his senior, would be a better choice as versatile midfield anchor if one were creating a fantasy side. Perhaps, looking fondly at our own recent history, Xabi Alonso would be preferred if the choice was either/or. But that still wouldn't change that in the modern, tactical, team-based game that football has become, having ten fiery and passionate Englishmen stampeding around the pitch without an ounce of tactical sense doesn't win you matches, and an at the least thoroughly professional and tidy player like Lucas doing his job to keep things ticking over in midfield can win you trophies. It may not impress the mouth-breathers and their masters amongst those narrow-minded segments of the media, but the modern game is about team excellence rather than individual excellence, as every top domestic side--including Chelsea, United, and Arsenal--have shown along with all the best national outfits.
For all that some would still go to great lengths to scream and shout that Lucas isn't one of the ten greatest midfielders in the game, doing so only shows that the person screaming doesn't really understand what the game is. Lucas is good right now, maybe even excellent when asked to do the job in midfield that he is quickly making his own for the Brazilian national squad. That he might individually not be as good as Schweisteiger or Alonso or Mascherano misses the point entirely. It's a classic case of not being able to see the forrest for the trees.
In any case, one might ask if Liverpool's midfield would have looked better against Blackburn and Bolton with Mascherano there in place of Lucas. Nobody would argue that Mascherano isn't a better destroyer of a classical defensive midfielder, but Lucas has bulked up and picked up on the defensive side of the game in his time in England, and against 90% of the sides you come up against his ability to cover will be more than good enough. Is he as good a defensive midfielder as Mascherano? No. But neither is Sergio Busquets at Barcelona, and yet Busquets is easily keeping Mascherano out of the starting eleven there because he's just good enough defensively to do the job against most sides while offering more going forward and a more obviously tactical footballing mind.
|Ayn Rand's betting on England in '14.|
Yet I get the feeling that if some Liverpool supporters were put in charge of Barcelona, Mascherano would walk back into the starting eleven because he is, they would say, measurably "better." Better how, though? Better individually, or better for the team? Admittedly it can at times seem counterintuitive to make such distinctions, but it's a distinction one has to be able to make if one intends to ever view football as the tactical game it has become instead of nothing but a simplistic entertainment.
As one of our greatest midfielders of the EPL era said some time ago while talking to an all time Liverpool legend:
In England, those qualities of playing it simple, being in the right position, reading the game, knowing the right moment to make things happen around you are not appreciated. Making a tackle, a run into the box, the spectacular things are more appreciated.
Clearly there have always been those amongst the "most knowledgeable supporters in the world" who have been something less than tactically curious, but all because an outlook has a proudly ignorant history of under-appreciating the greats until they were gone doesn't mean it has a proud history.
All it does is show the signs of somebody whose outlook on football is fundamentally hobbled by a prehistoric mindset that will continue to see them think that the next World Cup can be England's return to glory if the players can just show that bit more heart and passion and to hell with team excellence and squad balance and intelligent footballers. It shows somebody who, if they can't appreciate at least a little the job a player such as Lucas does after the past few matches, is so blinded by that need to see personal excellence that they are not entirely rational in their inability to digest and asses modern football and modern footballers. They're geocentrists in a Copernican world, the 18% of Americans and 19% of Britons who still believe that the Sun orbits the Earth.
When somebody can watch the kind of show he put on for Brazil against the Ukraine and tell me with a straight face that the Earth is the center of the universe--that Lucas isn't good enough for Liverpool, end of--it's hard for me to think anything but that this is a fundamentally irrational person who isn't worth my time.
*Yes, I'm aware that the title I chose for it managed to distract a few people from what it was actually about.