Lucas Leiva: The Road to Redemption

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By Joe Kilty

Follow me on Twitter @joescouse_LFC

“And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high.” Ayrton Senna.

Mental toughness is a key attribute for any young player to possess, as Rafael Benitez alluded to when unveiling the 20 year old Lucas Leiva in 2007, “We believe he has the mentality and the character you need to do well in England” said Benitez. Looking at his competition for a starting place, Lucas was going to need it.

His first challenge as a Liverpool player was to break into a team blessed with the finest central midfielders in England, Spain and Argentina. His youthful mistakes were benchmarked against the often superlative performances of those around him, and so it was inevitable that the critics would start to hone in on him.

In the 7th minute of his first big test, replacing Mascherano in the starting line up against Arsenal, Lucas made a terrible blunder that set Adebayor racing towards goal. Luckily, Liverpool got away with it, but first impressions last.

Following his performance in a dire 0-0 draw against Fulham, one journalist wrote, “The scouts who found him need to be seriously quizzed – it must be hard to find a Brazilian footballer with such limited ability”.

Things went from bad to worse from here. He gave away a penalty and was sent off against Everton as Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup. The following week he gave away another penalty, against Wigan, which cost Liverpool two vital points in the race for the title.  At this point in time, most reds would have been happy if he had never pulled on a Liverpool shirt again. 

On a sunny Saturday lunchtime in March 2009, Lucas started his fight back against the critics. Liverpool were at Old Trafford to play their title rivals in the biggest game of the season. With star midfield playmaker Xabi Alonso injured, Benitez called on Lucas, offering the 22 year old an opportunity to come of age.

Lucas rose to the occasion. He partnered Javier Mascherano in a midfield that completely outplayed Carrick and Anderson in the 4-1 win. He doubled up with the full-backs superbly well, rendering Ronaldo ineffective from the wing for the entire game and snuffing out Rooney’s infiltration of the midfield.

Lucas was at the centre of everything Liverpool did well. He had an 83% pass completion rate (against a Liverpool average of 75%) with an impressive 54% of these passes in the attacking half of the field.  He won 77% of the tackles he went in for and won 54% of his 50-50 midfield duals. On top of this, he made no defensive errors in the entire match.  All this against a Manchester United team who, up until this game, had been running away with the title.

Interestingly, Lucas received mixed reactions after the game. The Guardian described his performance as “lacklustre” whilst The Telegraph reported that he played “superbly well”. Like many players of his ilk, the subtle brilliance of Lucas can often be missed by the untrained eye.

The 2010 season started with Rafael Benitez coming out in the media to defend Lucas against the harsh treatment he had been on the receiving end of, “He is so good but still he was criticised. I do not understand why they do not criticise other players, more senior players, when they do not play well. But he will have a big season.” Lucas said of the criticism, “I have confidence in myself – you need that in life, not just football. So no matter what, I believe in myself and the manager does too.”

The prediction from Benitez that Lucas would have a ‘big season’ was correct. He started it by playing 6 games consecutively for the first time since joining the club and went on to play in 35 out of the 38 league games. His pass completion rate for the season of 84% was amongst the highest at the club, with a very impressive 72% of his passing inside the opponent’s half of the field.

At the end of the season, he was voted “Young Player of the Year” by the fans, an accolade that would have been unthinkable back in 2008.

By the 2010/11 season, with the departure of Javier Mascherano, Lucas had made the holding central midfield role his own. He made 33 appearances in the league, a total only bettered by the ever present players Reina and Skrtel.

It was the best season Lucas had enjoyed in a Liverpool shirt. He had a pass completion rate for the season of 83%, with 66% of his passes going forwards and just 6% going backwards. In comparison, Liverpool’s total stats for the season show that they had a 77% pass completion rate, with 57% forward passes and 16% backward. Lucas, therefore, was significantly above average in terms of his passing accuracy and his ability to play penetrating passes forward.

His performance in the away win against Chelsea is the perfect example of why he was voted the fan’s Player of the Year. He ran the game from start to finish in a ‘man of the match’ display.

Lucas has started the 2011/12 season in the same manner that he ended last year. After a solid display against Sunderland he was pivotal in the win against Arsenal. His passing chalkboard shows just how often he penetrated the Arsenal danger areas:


The improvement Lucas has shown over the past two years has been phenomenal. The critical voices are almost mute, with just a few misguided murmurings from those sections of the crowd with untrained eyes. Benitez was right about his mental toughness, and he has become a certain starter under the new Dalglish era.

It is easy to forget that Lucas is still only 24 years old. His best years are ahead of him and the great news for LFC fans is that they will be enjoyed at Anfield.

This article has been translated into Portuguese and can be found here (thanks to @LFCBrasil on Twitter for the translation)


  1. Made up for him, took a a lot of stick from the fans an me too for telling my mates he would come good. I really believe he has the core values of LFC close to his heart, he will make mistakes but Carra has finished a season or two with a couple of OG’s. With the south American influx on top of what we had he’s maturing fast I mean how many 24yr old players have there own farm? Good on you Lucas an good piece Joe, vindicated Lucas with stats you need to get in touch with Comolli. YNWA

  2. I still find it laughable that he has critics. I’ve always rated him highly, often starting arguments with friends over him. He always plays with a smile on his face, never shirks a challenge and has never shown anything but loyalty to LFC. He could so easily have moved on. Anyone that knows anything about football (this does not include the media as they are clueless) willbe fully aware that he is our fulcrum. Forget Xabi and Mascha, he is different to both. He is Lucas. At 24, he will become a Liverpool great unless we cash in on him. If he was better at shooting, we really would be talking. But, he has fantastic awareness and selflessness. He is brilliant in the air and in the tackle. His passing is excellent and he starts a lot of moves going. But most of all is his intelligence on the pitch. He understands the manager’s ideas and he is only going to learn and improve more.

  3. Really nice article Joe.

    It’s hard to believe he is only 24 and I think we are about to see the best of him. He also clearly works well with Raul M and Luis.

    His turnaround makes you question those “fans” who have already started giving Henderson and Caroll so much stick after just a few games.
    The Liverpool way is to stand united as one. We the fans are the “12th man” and we need to support and encourage the younger players, look what happened to Lucus.

  4. no no not for me,,,yes lucas is a good player but not good enough for liverpoolfc, in the past liverpool had a great quality players as defensive midf like steve mcmohan,jamie redknapp,ronnie whelan,sounness, jan molby, didi hamman, xabi alonso, mascherano they are all liverpool standard but lucas at his best not to be there at all,,,sorry to say,,lucas not good enough for liverpool even momo sissoko or danny murphy is more quality than the brazilian LUCAS LEIVA…that my 2cent point,,,lols

  5. No matter what you will get Lucas haters. The main reason behind it is he doesn’t show flare, which is fine as the job he is asked to do doesn’t need it. He is an out and out DM. When he came to LFC he came as an attacking DM and was asked to reverse the role he was used to. He breaks up play brilliantly and you could see from our pre-season stats how much we missed him letting in soooo many goals. For me he is class, he never moaned and got on with it and people say he isn’t good enough for LFC, I say you are not a good enough Fan for LFC, support you team instead of putting them down you morons. and abelish that is all your point is worth 2 cents

  6. Damo – Do you spend your life looking through articles for spelling mistakes?

    Patrik – they are from Guardian Chalkboards on The Guardian website.

    The fact that there are still Lucas haters out there justifies why I wrote the article.

    Thanks for the comments.

  7. I always thought he wasn’t liverpool standard, but after this preseason I understood he s THE WALL…. Ynwa

  8. I must admit, I used to the name Lucas on the starting line up and say no…not him…but he has proved me wrong and now he has my utmost respect. He has been the most consistant player for us and still improving. I am glad he’s plays for us.

  9. Fantastic article. The turnaround Lucas has shown and his desire to do this turnaround with Liverpool mkaes him Liverpool quality. How many times have we seen the opposition at the 18 and suddenyl who steals the ball and starts the play going the opposite way…LUCAS! And Kenny is right, WHERE IS OUR LUCAS SONG?!? The boy deserves the Kop singing his name for all the dedication he has shown.

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