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Lucas Leiva: The Psychology Of Success

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Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva has battled adversity aplenty since his arrival on Scouse soil. It turns out that few footballers are as well equipped to endure the twin torments of unpopularity and injury. He's a level-headed lad, is Leiva.

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Lucas' training regime saw him outgrow normal footballs
Lucas' training regime saw him outgrow normal footballs
Julian Finney

They're still out there. The doubters, the haters, the 'he's alright, I suppose, but' merchants. Yes, they're still there; carping, cribbing and crying about how Lucas Leiva is not good enough for Liverpool. Yet lately, these naysayers are in the tiny minority. Around you on The Kop these days, there are new targets for the disappointed groans and fresh recipients of the impatient howls of "Do something, you" -- the damning implication inherent in that Scouse exhortation-to-action being that said bone-idle footballer is unworthy even of a specific moniker.

Jordan Henderson took his turn as whipping-boy du jour and ironically, it was Leiva, veteran of so much bile and degradation, whose help was most effective in assisting the younger man through that period. You see Lucas Leiva, despite his disarmingly courteous manner, is teak-tough and his mental fortitude is an example to any of us who are struggling with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. This is not some misty-eyed revisionism on the part of your correspondent. The pattern of defiant resistance and strength in adversity is there for even his most mealy-mouthed detractor to witness and acknowledge.

It is hardly surprising that a man like Lucas, who is all too aware of the significance of mental health and strength, would be one of the more vocal supporters of the work being done by Dr. Steve Peters with those members of the Anfield playing staff possessed of enough sense to seek his assistance. That the sessions with this eminent psychologist are still voluntary is something that club management need to examine. Sometimes young men need to be told what's good for them -- they need to deal with their inner-chimp.

In a wide-ranging interview with Chris Bascombe in The Telegraph, the Brazilian international speaks about his tranquil upbringing, his love of farming and the unusual appreciation he has for the skills psychologists can bring to bear on the lives of others. It's insightful reading in a way that few such one-to-ones ever are and Leiva seems possessed of an impressive maturity and a Zen calm that belies his energetic, if currently impaired, playing style.

"I was fortunate to grow up in the ideal environment to help me," says Leiva of his upbringing. "Every summer when I was a youngster I would go to my grandfather's farm in Brazil to work there. He made his life around the farm so I used to go there for months during the holidays. As a kid it was something I really liked and a chance to see a way of living outside the city."

Leiva is appreciative of the material things his talent has brought him and he understands the good fortune he had to grow up in the family he did.

"I was lucky because my dad loved football and my uncle [Brazilian international, Leivinha] played, so in my family I was able to go away with my dad, watch and play and be around the Brazilian national team watching the likes of Romario, Bebeto and Ronaldo and then spend time away from all this when I wanted to be on the farm."

The midfielder is also acutely cognisant of his responsibility as a role model. Many of us will debate the issue and the tempest of controversy which continually engulfs Luis Suarez has made the topic a live one amongst Liverpool fans. Personally, I abhor the abdication of responsibility that is inherent in a parent whinging about how the actions of a footballer will damage the psyche of their offspring. It's lamentably weak-minded and speaks more to the lack of guidance they can supply themselves. Lucas, however, is typically diplomatic and evinces an admirable concern.

"I know kids look to players as heroes and will follow what we, as players, do on and off the pitch and I know I have a responsibility, but I do not feel pressure with that. If you live in the right way it happens normally. As footballers we want to send positive messages and sport is a way of developing your confidence and character, especially football."

On the topic of the mental aspect of the game, Lucas is particularly perspicacious. Both his wife and mother-in-law are psychologists, so he is eminently well placed to discuss the benefits of time spent in their company! He has been a strong advocate of the efforts of Dr. Steve Peters on behalf of the squad and he has encouraged his colleagues to shed their stereotypical reticence and engage fully with the man who has helped the likes of the British Olympic Cycling team and ex-Redman Craig Bellamy.

"It's important for people to try everything. The players, the staff and everyone should do all the club offers. Dr. Peters has worked with successful athletes and I worked with him a lot when I was injured, especially my second injury. Some players feel they do not need it but it has worked for me. Next season we will work with him even more because he is helping. He teaches you to block all negative messages in your mind and that when there is something bad in your head, you can deal with that."

I wish I'd had the benefit of intermittent sessions with Dr. Peters myself because this season left me regularly struggling with "something bad in [my] head," but when one hears these sentiments from a leader of our emergent team, a leader who will hopefully have regained the full extent of his robust physicality as the season begins, it would be a deliberately morose and cynical person who would not feel the excitement of hope.