IT’S the not knowing that kills you. By the time you read this the extent of the injury sustained by Lucas Leiva on Tuesday night may have been confirmed. In the meantime I’ll be mostly feeling sick to the stomach.
As the tabloid press would have it, several million people are ‘sweating’ on the Brazilian’s injury, whatever that might mean.
At the minute talk of a six-month layoff is being bandied about, and while even such a dark prognosis might not prevent this most determined of footballers from returning more quickly, the very prospect of losing our midfield general even for a shorter period is, truly, sickening.
Sickening on a personal level for a player whose impeccable character and commitment has given him the inner strength to prove he belongs not just on the Premier League but the world stage.
Sickening for the team as a whole to lose the heartbeat of a side beginning to cohere around a spine of three or four key men, among whom Lucas is arguably first among equals.
Sickening because it threatens to undo so much of the good work the Reds have done over the last three games, to upset the equilibrium of our season just as we were starting to hit a groove.
The task of negotiating a December which needs to be a fruitful one for Liverpool without Lucas will be tough on a practical level, although Jay Spearing will be unstinting in his efforts if called upon to deputise.
Injuries change seasons and careers, and can spark chains of events no-one can foresee. The emotional impact alone is difficult to quantify – look at the effect of Eduardo’s 2008 injury on not just the striker’s career but on Arsenal’s skilful but emotionally frail squad.
Some are more significant than others though, and if – big if – Lucas is out for a long period of time it’s likely to have as many knock-on consequences as these:
Fernando Torres, 2008/09
West Ham, Hull, Arsenal, Stoke, Middlesbrough. Oh god, Middlesbrough. 11 points dropped in five games. Fernando Torres, officially the third best player in the world at the time, missed them all (barring a late appearance off the bench at the Britannia).
The season it all so nearly came together, a succession of niggling injuries limited Torres to just 20 starts. 14 league goals reflected a seemingly irrepressible hunger for goals and an innate ability to dig them out, but in truth we never saw the best of our most bankable asset in a year when so much else went right.
Throughout the season Torres was either out with his latest knock or gingerly making his way back. Only in the 4-1 at Old Trafford did it begin to feel like he was playing free of fear, with the April drive over Paul Robinson against Blackburn one of the most joyous expressions of a talent which at times seemed boundless.
With Torres at his best before then we surely would have found the four points we needed from somewhere. We would have won the league. Had it happened, where might we – and he – be now?
Alex Raisbeck – 1908/09
Raisbeck, the driving force of the first great Liverpool team, was still only 30 in 1908/09. Having led the Reds to promotion and then on to league titles in 1901 and 1906, he remained the focal point of a side which had slumped to lower mid-table. Having failed to adequately replaced proto-Robbie Fowler Sam Raybould at centre-forward, the club’s hopes in 1908/09 rested squarely on Raisbeck’s shoulders.
A Raisbeck knee injury in mid-season meant a promising start to the season (four wins in the first five games) quickly turned into a nightmare. He returned after months on the sidelines just in time to save his team from relegation, helping arrest a run of eight defeats in nine matches with a goal in a 3-0 home win over high-flying Sunderland.
Two more games unbeaten saw Liverpool scrape to safety by two points, but Raisbeck’s Anfield career was over and the club struggled for a footballing generation to recover from the traumatic decline he had been unable fully to negate.
Not until the arrival of Elisha Scott in 1919 would Anfield find another leader of his stature, and not until 1922 would Liverpool regain the title.
Mark Lawrenson, 1987
31 is no age for a footballer, particularly one of Lawrenson’s rarefied gifts. Arguably as good on his day as any centre-back in Europe and described by Tony Barrett as ‘probably Liverpool’s best ever tackler’, Lawrenson’s career was effectively ended at 31 by a devastating achilles injury.
Liverpool still won the league that season but for an idea of how much the club lost in one sickening moment at Wimbledon, we need only look at Lawrenson’s great contemporary Franco Baresi, who played on until 1997, retiring at 37.
Harry Kewell, 2005
Injuries and their outcomes are unpredictable, and not all are negative.
Obviously for Harry Kewell, limping off after 23 minutes of the biggest game of your life is a bitter if not entirely unexpected blow. Yet without Kewell’s injury, Vladimir Smicer might not have made it on to the pitch, and… well, you know the rest. Funny how things turn out sometimes.
Get well soon Lucas.