Ten years at Anfield. Not many players manage it. Despite constant doubts from some quarters, a terrible run with injuries, and surviving what at times appeared a revolving door of managers, Lucas Leiva did. Today, officially, his time at Liverpool as a player comes to an end. Today, officially, he joins Lazio in a £5M deal.
The 30-year-old Brazilian joined the club from Gremio in 2007, also in a £5M deal, and following the departure of Steven Gerrard and the retirement of Jamie Carragher he became for a time the club’s longest-serving player. He made 346 appearances at the club, ranking him 46th all time amongst Liverpool players.
“That time has now come,” said Lucas, reflecting on his time at Anfield and decision to leave. “As I prepare for a new career at Lazio and while I am saddened that my days at Anfield are coming to an end, I can at least take comfort from the knowledge that my relationship with Liverpool and the supporters is stronger than ever.
“This is one of the greatest clubs in the world and my intention had always been to spend the rest of my career here but the less I have been able to play, the more I have realised that I need to go to another club if I want to play as much as I possibly can.
“When you love a club and a city as much as I love Liverpool that isn't an easy decision to come to. The easiest thing for me to do would be to stay here for as long as I can even if I do not expect to play so often, but that would go against everything that I believe in as a footballer and as a competitor.”
With minutes hard to come by for the midfielder in recent seasons, a departure did always seem inevitable despite his love for the club. The only question, really, was when Lucas would head off in search of more regular playing time as he entered the final phase of his career, and Lazio appear a solid destination.
While there was regular talk of interest in Turkey, or of a potential return to Brazil, Lucas was always likely to aim a little higher if he was going to leave Anfield, and Lazio represent just that as they are set to compete in the Europa League next season following a fifth-place finish in Serie A in 2016-17.
“My sadness at leaving Liverpool is accompanied by a real excitement that I will be representing one of Italy's great clubs,” he noted. “Before I made my decision to take the opportunity, I discussed my situation with Jürgen Klopp, and the way he handled it showed once again how respectful he is to his players. I am grateful to him and to all of the managers I worked under at Liverpool.”
Lucas leaves Liverpool fifth behind only Bruce Grobbelaar, Sami Hyypia, Pepe Reina, and John Arne Riise in total appearances for a player who arrived at the club from outside the United Kingdom or Ireland, and he will deservedly be remembered as, if not an outright club legend, then at the very least as a real cult hero.
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you to every single Liverpool fan,” he added. “My family and myself will always be grateful for your support and for being part of this great club, which means we will also be sad now that the time has come for me to leave. All I can say now is that I hope more than anything else that the new season turns out to be a great one for my new club and my old club.”
Hopefully Lucas can now find both the minutes and the success on the pitch he’s searching for at Lazio, and hopefully, just maybe, there’s a role for him back at Liverpool in some capacity in the future when he does hang up his boots.