What’s that? ‘Concrete boots’ Lucas is leaving so we can sign a Real Madrid midfielder, who’s three years his junior and once cost the Spaniards £34m?
On the surface, selling Lucas, who can’t get in Brendan Rodgers’ squad right now and buying the exotic sounding Asier Illarramendi, is exciting. The 25-year-old was Xabi Alonso’s heir apparent at Real Sociedad, and his performances for the Basques earned him a blockbuster move to Real Madrid in 2013.
That summer in fact, he cost Los Blancos more than Isco did.
BBC Sport‘s European expert Andy West described him like this upon completion of the marquee transfer:
“Like Xabi Alonso, he is a classy, composed, ball-playing midfielder who started his career with local club Real Sociedad, rising to fame by playing a key role in their surge to Champions League qualification. Illarramendi is the heartbeat of the team, sitting in front of the back four to dictate the game’s flow and tempo with a wonderful range of passing.”
Besiktas are already in talks with Lucas, their transfer supremo Erdal Torunoğulları confirmed to Turkish media outlet Lig TV, while MARCA promise Liverpool have returned to Real Madrid with a £10.6m bid for Illarra, who’s available now Mateo Kovacic has moved to Spain.
You get the feeling that Rodgers has always wanted a ball-playing holding midfielder, and in many ways, Illarra is what Joe Allen never was. An intelligent midfielder who sits in front of the back-four and doesn’t so much stop the opposition from playing but set the tone and tempo of his own side.
But we’d be making a serious mistake in offloading Lucas and signing him.
Firstly, Lucas is our longest serving player and his experience is vital. He’s been at the club since 2007 and has matured, improved and developed a tight bond with the city and our supporters. Decisions shouldn’t be based on loyalty, but Lucas’s transformation from a victim of Kop boos to the club’s Player of the Year in 2010/11 shouldn’t be ignored. What’s more – he’s Brazilian. With our best player (and close friend of Lucas) Coutinho similarly hailing from football’s greatest nation and our blockbuster £29m summer signing Roberto Firmino too – there’d be an argument in keeping Lucas to keep his countrymen happier.
More importantly, Lucas is content to be used as a squad player. He’s never been an automatic starter in Rodgers’ three years in charge, but he’s never kicked off about it. As squad players go, he’s incredibly reliable and unproblematic. When our Northern Irishman deems the need for an anchorman, he can trust Lucas to do a solid destructive job. In winter 2014/15, he entered the side at its worst – and his tackling, discipline and interceptions helped transform us.
Lucas’s limitations are well-known, but as a squad player, he’s valuable.
Illarramendi though wouldn’t leave the bench at the Bernabeu to warm it at Anfield, and herein lies the problem.
Rodgers would be swapping a no-nonsense, compliant servant, for a midfielder unproven in the Premier League, still expecting selection in it.
And in skipper Jordan Henderson and vice-skipper James Milner, Rodgers has already bestowed that honour on two central players. So Illarra’s only natural role in the side would be at the base of a midfield three (which we’ve yet to start with this term) with Milner and Henderson in front of him. But in Emre Can, we have the perfect player for this role already. The German’s come off the bench as a defensive midfielder in our two wins this term, and shored up the side impressively – helping us maintain possession and providing added physicality.
If we were entering the market for a Nemanja Matic, fine. But Illarra is limited just like Lucas is. He’s not improved since joining Madrid, doesn’t read the game well and is physically slight. Yes, he’s classy on the ball and can pass, but Can offers more.
Illarra’s arrival would block Can’s path to the first-team and potentially destabilise a unified squad. Barring Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini and Jose Enrique, who will hopefully leave soon, the group is happy and knows their roles.
Not only does signing Illarra force us to play 4-3-3, which limits the number of attacking midfielders we can use, but it restricts Can’s chances. This is fine if we could bring him out for big matches, but Illarra will want a starting spot every week. In terms of maintaining a tight, happy squad, Lucas should stay at Anfield.
Jordan Chamberlain – Editor of Empire of the Kop – @Jordan_AC90