By Ben Carr
When bought in 2007 from Gremio. Lucas Leiva joined Liverpool without pressure and expectation surrounding him, a relative unknown to Liverpool fans he was thrilled to have the chance to play for one of Europe’s elite.
He came to Liverpool as one of few Brazilians to ever play for the club, an attacking midfielder blessed with flair and vision he moved to Liverpool off the back of winning the prestigious Placar magazine ‘Bola de Ouro’ (Golden ball), an award won by the likes of Zico, Romario, Kaka and Tevez in the past.
With a 5 million pound price tag, I can’t help feeling Liverpool have had their monies worth. Rafa Benitez expected Lucas to score goals for fun in the Premier League, when it became apparent that it wasn’t to be he converted this flair fueled player into a more combative defensive player. I think a lot of Liverpool fans underestimated the challenge laid down by Benitez to Lucas because of this somewhat risky decision.
Can you image what sort of player Kaka would have been if he had been told at 21, ‘Come here lad – instead of tearing teams apart with creation and skill game after game I want you to get stuck in.’ A young foreign player suddenly had a career changing position situation to deal with within one of the most competitive leagues in the world. A league renowned for its face pace and tough tackling Lucas set about the challenge by getting his head down, he did it without fuss and without question, working hard and clearly wanting to do anything to impress his manager and the fans of Liverpool Football Club.
A former captain of Gremio and the Brazilian under 20’s team he went from a big fish in a smaller sized pond to a squad player in the ever improving Liverpool side of 2008. He came under harsh criticism from former players and supporters who questioned his lack of quality. He was working along side Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, three players who were all established first team regulars and players that Lucas no doubt looked up to and could learn from. Despite struggling to win over Liverpool fans Benitez saw something in Lucas others perhaps didn’t.
With Xabi Alonso moving on to pastures new the responsibilities on the shoulders of Lucas grew, and with The Reds bringing in the injured Alberto Aquilani he was finally given a regular first team spot to make his own, and that he did, playing 50 first team games in the 09/10 season scoring one memorable European goal. He had finally turned around some of the doubters and he was a shining light in what was a miserable time for Liverpool players, management and fans around the world. His commitment was rarely questioned and this young 22 year old from the streets of Brazil had finally proved himself to be a proven regular in Liverpool sides of the future.
Lets remember, we never saw Lucas moan about his position change and for a young player at a top level it couldn’t have been easy. Despite occasionally being hung out to dry by some fans he never once spoke of how it must have been affecting his confidence despite it being sometimes evident during games. A player that has proved this season just how much determination and quality he has in a promising ‘New Liverpool’ it goes to show just how far this boy from Brazil has come. A leader at heart is now leading those around him and a name I’m sure many place on their team sheets early on, he’s showing that he can be a permanent fixture in the future of Liverpool Football Club.
A player who was asked to succeed in ‘The Xabi Alonso role’ he has now created a new position which I’d like to call ‘The Lucas Role’: desire, commitment and intelligence are all parts of his game that have come to the for front and I for one can’t wait to continue watching him develop into a fantastic asset for Liverpool Football Club.