LUCAS nearly left Liverpool in the summer. Lucas nearly left Liverpool in the summer. Lucas nearly left Liverpool in the summer. Re-read and repeat that phrase a few times and notice how quickly the notion becomes nonsensical and ridiculous.
Keep going and the ridicule soon turns to dread and worry about a transfer that never actually happened but was, by all accounts, a very near thing.
This point was made on the podcast discussing the Reds’ wonderful 1-4 win in Manchester but it bears repeating and expanding: isn’t it mad how different managers can see things so differently?
Not just tactics and philosophy and all that stuff, but players.
Under Brendan Rodgers, Lucas was as good as gone. The player himself has admitted that he was very close to a departure in the summer before a last-minute injury to Jordan Henderson saw him start away to Arsenal and he clung grimly on in the face of a manager who it appears had been happy to see him off to Napoli, Besiktas… anywhere, really.
Ever since Klopp’s arrival, however, Lucas has experienced a total change in fortunes. In an alternate timeline that saw Klopp come in for Rodgers in the summer, Lucas is, at the very least, the German’s vice-captain.
The rapport the two men share is clear to see: Lucas is his manager’s conduit on the pitch, every inch a leader, the captain without the armband.
Lucas’ role in what Klopp is looking to do with Liverpool is vital. In a system that encourages fluidity, especially in the midfield, Lucas is as orthodox as it comes. He sits back as Emre Can and James Milner, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho duck and weave and dive.
Lucas sits back and he mops up. He breaks up play, often into a million tiny pieces, but he is also capable of knitting it back together with precise, incisive passing.
And he talks. Boy, does he talk.
He talks for Klopp and he talks for himself. If someone has done something mad, or looks like he might, Lucas will be over to him, having a word. His play possesses a snarl and an aggression that appears lacking in his off-field personality, if his jovial interactions on social media are anything to go by.
The Brazilian is also absolutely brilliant at picking up “good” yellow cards. Not impressive looking fouls, but rather fouls that prevent a dangerous counter attack from becoming anything else. The booking he picked up at Manchester City that means he will miss Sunday’s game with Swansea City is the perfect example. He sits back and he mops up.
It’s a curious thing with Lucas that he has apparently been losing his legs ever since his cruciate injury against Chelsea in 2011. He had been playing blinding football before that injury but upon his return, he appeared a little slower, slightly rusty.
Ever since, no matter how he played, we have been told his legs have gone and it has seemed that he was constantly being ushered out the door at every opportunity. He suffered from not being a part of that starting 11 in the second half of 2013-14. It was easier to forget what Lucas did well when the Reds scored three or four every week. And yet, every time that things went wrong thereafter, Rodgers broke glass and reached for Lucas, like a favourite tough-tackling teddy bear after a bad dream.
It is not just Rodgers who under-rated Lucas. It is a common opinion among those who do not watch him play that he is just sort of there — a space filler and nothing more.
That is all well and good until he smashes into your dainty number 10, ruins yet another counter attack or wins yet another crucial header. It is quite alright with us that Lucas is under appreciated. Because we bloody love him.
Lucas has been on quite the journey with Liverpool fans. Arriving in 2007, we were told that the Reds had signed a Brazilian under 20 captain, an all action box-to-box midfielder.
What we initially got was a thin, long haired (pre-wetted hair at that) kid who did not look like he knew a lot of what to do near either box.
He became a figure of frustration for us and of fun for the opposition. As it turns out, what we were seeing was a 20-year-old not fully knowing where his position was yet. He grew and grew into himself, slowly but surely learning that while that shooting and scoring goals guff might not be for him, tackling, spoiling and generally throwing himself at people most definitely was.
As mentioned before, pre-cruciate in 2011, Lucas had been playing wonderfully. His cult was growing by the day on the Kop.
When he came back from that injury, he found his first-team chances blocked at every turn and never found a starting place coming his way too often.
Yet every time he knitted a run of games together, fans instantly remembered why they liked him so much in 2011 and why they still did. He was like your best mate who moved away. You drifted apart and didn’t talk all the time but within five minutes of meeting back up together, you remember exactly why you were such good mates.
I think the transformation of Lucas as a player is part of what endears him so much to Liverpool fans. We remember when he was a bit rubbish and now that he is entirely the opposite it is made all the more special. It’s great that he is not appreciated by those who do not see him play. Because that means we can appreciate him even more.
If we asked “what next?” for Lucas Leiva in August, the only answer that could have been predicted was him leaving Liverpool.
Fast forward three months and he is a vital part of a team really starting to purr, its on-field leader and trusted lieutenant of his manager. He has even had a few shots this season!
So when we ask “what’s next” for Lucas Leiva now, world domination doesn’t feel like a stretch. Not that he would get the credit for it. And that would be fine by us.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo