In just a few short years, Lucas Leiva went from being a midfield pariah, to the rock that anchors Liverpool’s midfield down. It was a transition that was anything but swift, and looking back, I think every fan is amazed he wasn’t driven out of the club. At one point, the vitriol against him was so immense, all it lacked was actual torches and pitchforks to literally run him out of the city.
Lucas’ story is a great one, and for a number of reasons. It taught an ever increasingly impatient fan base patience. It taught players, managers, pundits, and the media that you can’t always rush to judgement on a young, foreign player. And most importantly, it taught everyone what a self-motivated and talented young footballer can achieve when he truly believes in himself and his ability. Add to that Lucas’ uncanny knack to stare adversity in the face and win without even blinking, and you have yourself a player that taught us all a lesson.
To give some context, Lucas arrived at Liverpool as a mere 20-year-old from Brazil. He shined for Gremio and caught the eye of more than one manager in Europe. But it was Rafa Benitez who saw something special in the young Brazilian midfielder and decided he would fit well into Liverpool’s setup.
He joined the team at a time when the Reds were on the rise. They had just competed in their second Champions League final in three years, and were building towards continued success for the future by investing in promising, youthful prospects such as Lucas.
Fast forward to the 2008-2009 season, and Lucas struggled. Badly. He was disappointing in a number of performances for Liverpool, so much so that the Anfield faithful took to booing him off after several lackluster games. Benitez, being the kind of manager he is, leapt to Lucas’ defense. He claimed none of us knew just how good Lucas was. And in return, we claimed that Benitez had no clue just how terrible he was. Many, including myself, struggled to see what the manager saw in the diminutive Brazilian.
To be fair, it couldn’t have been easy competing in a midfield stacked with talent. At the time, he was up against Mascherano, Alonso, and Gerrard. And as we all so cruelly remember, the axis of Alonso and Mascherano was phenomenal, and Gerrard’s inspired role behind Torres was ingenious. Lucas was the weak link, and the fans and media were intent on getting him out of the team. At least, I know I was.
Then the bottom dropped out. The 2009-2010 season was a disaster. Alonso was gone, the team were never able to build on their incredible success the season before, and in the end, it all cost Benitez his job.
But, while the team was most definitely on the wane, Lucas was on the rise. With Alonso’s departure, the Brazilian was finally given more responsibility, which he seemed to grab with both hands. His first half of the 2009-2010 season was decent, but he grew in stature as the season went on.
And while the 2010-2011 season (the first half of it anyway) was something most Liverpool fans want to forget, Lucas’ performances were tremendous. Rumors have it that Hodgson actually wanted to flog Lucas off. Thankfully, no such thing happened. He continued his excellent run of form when Dalglish replaced Hodgson mid-season, and enjoyed a wonderful run that saw the team go from a lowly 12th to 6th in about 4 months.
In May 2011, Lucas was voted the fans’ player of the year. He also made the most tackles in the top 4 European Leagues for the 2010-2011 season.
His barnstorming form returned at the start of the 2011-2012 season, and he was absolutely immense against Manchester City and Chelsea in November. Sadly, his season was cut short from a terrible ACL injury, and the collapse of form of the team following his injury tells you a lot about how much influence he truly began to have. From a player that most would have been happy to sell, to a player that, through his absence, the team around him disintegrated.
In the five years since Lucas was brought to the club, he has undergone a transformation few players have the opportunity to make, namely because time is never on a player’s side when trying to impress a new team. But every fan that maligned the very name of Lucas, was singing his praises last season, and no one could mention the demise of Liverpool in 2012 without uttering what a loss Lucas had been to the midfield. There was an enormous chasm that opened up after his injury, one that was never filled by Dalglish. The team lost its balance, and most importantly, they lost its metronome. Two things Lucas provided in spades.
I honestly haven’t been as impressed with a player’s improvement as I have been with Lucas.
So what does this story teach us? It teaches us to give players time, especially players who come from halfway across the world, don’t speak the language, and are only 20 years old.
But it also teaches the importance of a mentality, belief, and intelligence that belong to only a handful of players ever to have graced the beautiful game. Lucas took the anger that was aimed at him, misdirected or not, and he turned it into a reason to work harder, rather than pack it up and go somewhere more comfortable, somewhere a little easier than the cauldron of cruelty that he experienced at Anfield. But he didn’t.
His story is a brilliant one. For once it wasn’t a player asking what the club and fans could do for him, but rather what he could grab onto deep inside and give to the club and fans. And all that in the face of rancor from every corner of Anfield and every media outlet that needed a new person to beat down.
So while the fans also needed to learn a few lessons, chiefly in their patience skills when it comes to a young player’s development, it was an even bigger lesson for players. Perhaps other footballers will take something from Lucas’ story. Perhaps they’ll walk away thinking that it’s them that have to impress the club and the fans. Perhaps they’ll realize, that deep down, the fans always want a new player to succeed, and that if the player gives it their all and more, they will, and with the fans’ backing.
Lucas has taught us all a lesson. And I hope he continues to do so for Liverpool for years to come. He’s an excellent example of a player you can be proud of. And more than anything, he should be proud of himself for reminding every one of what players need to show the fans, and how the fans should really treat the players. We were lucky he stayed. And if we didn’t learn the Lucas lesson fully, we may not be so lucky the next time a young player like him comes along.