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Following The Leaders

In Mamadou Sakho and Lucas Leiva, Liverpool have two tremendously inspiring characters whose skill and drive on the pitch have made them both genuine leaders in Brendan Rodgers' squad.

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The fans always knew a match was in the bag when Hendo and Lucas took a moment to practice their Dirty Dancing routine
The fans always knew a match was in the bag when Hendo and Lucas took a moment to practice their Dirty Dancing routine
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Some days the process of trying to write something semi-lucid can be soul destroying. Having a calm mind is a necessity, lest one's thoughts simply scatter in a wide ineffectual arc like so many pellets from a blunderbuss. Attaining that tranquil brainpan is the key, but on the occasions when external forces are perpetually battering at one's beleaguered cranium, reaching the pacific mindset required for analytical thought can seem an entirely implausible ambition. This morning had been one such occasion until a couple of inspirational heroes intervened.

Riven by the darkest of thoughts, your scribbler's limited cerebrum was further tormented by what appeared to be a complete dearth of Liverpool Football Club news on which to base a few paragraphs for your amusement. I was seriously considering the desperate notion of simply posting the typewriter scene from The Shining with no words to accompany it in the hope some would find such a crass attempt at self-satire to be vaguely amusing. Then, a final hopeless click of the refresh button and BINGO -- not one, but two sources of inspiration, in the contrasting forms, but comparable characters of Lucas Leiva and Mamadou Sakho.

It has become fashionable amongst certain misanthropic souls to belittle and dismiss Lucas Leiva. Such benighted sorts focus only on the negatives. "His legs have gone," they insist. "He can't track back," others whine. To be fair to the complainants, there have been far too many occasions over recent years when a wretched combination of incomplete rehabilitation, lack of match fitness and a paucity of confidence have meant that the Brazilian has seemed to be guilty of both accusations, not to mention his penchant for fouling the opposition in dangerous areas of the pitch.

However, as he has done since his arrival, Leiva overcame whatever obstacles faced him, and before his most recent injury, he had been in some of the best form of his career and absolutely central to the club's turnaround following an apocalyptic start to the campaign. Sadly, just as his imperious form had made him undroppable, injury struck again. Typically, the combative midfielder focused immediately on overcoming his latest setback and when others took a break, Lucas hit the gym with the physio and trained his way back to fitness at Melwood alongside the kids. For this most admirable of characters that was the only choice. With two weeks of full training under his belt he says he feels "100%" and is desperate to regain his first team berth.

"Of course it's good to have a few days off but I was away in Brazil while I was having my treatment, so it was the right decision to stay here and keep working during the international break," insists the amiable veteran. "If you get too many days off you don't get the sharpness and the rhythm of the training session and that's what I was missing. I spoke with the staff and they prepared everything for me as well to make me feel as though I'm in good condition, so it's looking good and hopefully it will only get better."

It is very revealing to hear the opinions of others within the squad, when it comes to their senior colleague and 18 year old Sergio Canos, one of Liverpool's brightest young prospects, with 18 goals to date this season, is unstinting in his praise of a man once dubbed Papa Lucas in the chaotic paragraphs of this very column.

"Lucas is an unbelievable player," said Canos. "You can learn so much from him from every touch he makes, every single moment and it is an honour for me to train with him. Even though he is Brazilian he can speak Spanish which is great for me and I can learn so much from him."

The man himself, as at home on horseback on his Brazilian ranch as he is corralling the Premier League's finest attackers, is one of the club's quiet leaders. He took Jordan Henderson under his wing and counselled him on how to deal with toxic abuse and now he is casting an avuncular eye over at least four more Jord(a/o)ns as well as all the other promising talents that for some reason don't share that name.

"I think since Brendan came in, the young players have been getting a lot of chances, especially training with us," says Leiva, magnanimously crediting his manager with the bravery to give youth a chance, despite the fact that it may cost him his place. "We can see a lot of young players coming in and a few of them have made their debuts. Jordan Williams and Jordan Rossiter both made their debut this season and there are a lot of other players that come in and train on a daily basis with us, so it's always good. We have some good players there, and I think with the way the club is moving, it's a great opportunity for young players now because we have an experienced group of players but also we have a lot of young players coming in. That gives them more hope to have a chance."

If Lucas represents all that is good about the old stagers at Anfield, then Mamadou Sakho would be this scribbler's choice as the embodiment of the more impressive characteristics inherent in the club's comparative newbies. The impressively mohicaned Frenchman has had to endure the most nakedly xenophobic derision in the media as television commentators, so-called journalists and tragically, as a result, even some of the club's own fans, have dismissed his loping style as ungainly. His long limbs and idiosyncratic gait have convinced some myopic observers that Sakho is somehow uncomfortable on the ball and yet his error rate is miniscule and his passing statistics are as high as any. When one combines those two things with his ferocious tackling, intelligent positioning and capacity for striding majestically out from the back in possession, well...this is a proper player, folks.

Sakho, like Lucas, is a genuine leader. In fact, when one factors-in the inspirational qualities of captain-in-waiting, Henderson and Emre Can, Liverpool seem set fair when it comes to replacing the considerable personality of Steven Gerrard. It is the left footed centre-half, however, that has truly impressed this Irishman. His self belief is tremendous and yet it does not translate into obnoxious arrogance. When he recently turned out for the U-21s as part of his injury rehabilitation, he was a genuine source of inspiration in the defeat of Manchester United. To hear Anfield's resident painter/decorator speak about his teammates, including the suspended Martin Skrtel, is to get an insight into his character.

"We are a strong group and we have other very good players," he averred. "It is true Martin is an important player for us, but now we have to adapt the team and I have confidence about all the players because they all have very good quality. The 11 who start against Arsenal have to stay focused and be ready. I'll stay how I am, Mama is Mama! So is Martin, and it is the same with the other players. is Mama? This is both a confusing and wonderful development.

"I have my character -- I want to give every game 100 per cent," continued the man with the most simultaneously disarming and unnerving smile in history. "I talk, I like to help all the players and I stay positive all the time. Every player has lost a pass or lost a goal, but if you keep a positive mentality, you can help your friend near to you. I'll stick with my mentality and with my personality. I have confidence with Dejan as well as with Kolo, with Emre, Johnson... all the defenders because in all the weeks we have worked together, I have seen the quality. For me, one player against 11 can't win, but together we have to help the team keep going."

In Mamadou Sakho and Lucas Leiva, Liverpool have two genuine warriors with the requisite class and drive to be part of a genuine title tilt next season, two leaders who can help the club push for the FA Cup and a Champions League finish by the end of the current campaign. Indeed, such is the inspirational quality of both men that even a bedraggled and tormented old scribbler can find a way to create something from the darkness. Now, if you'll excuse me I'm late for an exclusive interview with the BBC about how I definitely don't want any more money and just want to be seen as a writer who gives his best. Although I'm flattered by the offers. But it's not about the money.

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