THERE are certain things in football which you can always count on. James Milner to successfully bury a penalty, for example. Or Manchester United to score an offside goal at Old Trafford. Another of football’s near-certainties is for Lucas Leiva to be linked with a move away from Liverpool.
It happens virtually every single transfer window. Always on the brink, but never quite completed. Whether it’s Galatasaray or Inter Milan, Lucas’s name is always linked with a potential transfer. Each and every time, he remains at Liverpool.
At the start of this January, however, it seemed highly likely that his time at the club would finally be coming to an end after nine years of service, with Inter deemed to be his likely destination. Jürgen Klopp admitted he would be prepared to sanction his departure, yet the offer on the table was only for a loan deal and did not appeal to the player.
On Wednesday evening, Liverpool progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup after overcoming a plucky Plymouth Argyle side at the second time of asking — an instantly forgettable game in virtually every respect, except for the goal that sent the Reds through.
It was the stand-in captain, Lucas, who rose highest to plunder a first half header into the back of the net from Philippe Coutinho’s corner which ultimately proved to be the winner and the solitary goal in the contest. It also had the added bonus of silencing the Plymouth supporters who felt the need to sing about Steven Gerrard, a player who achieved a great deal more in his career than their entire club has in the history of their existence.
A true collector’s item, this was Lucas’s first goal since 2010 and only his seventh goal for Liverpool in nine-and-a-half years at the club.
Whatever you think of the FA Cup these days — and it is certainly only third on Liverpool’s list of priorities this season — this felt like a special goal. Regardless of it being against League Two opposition, the celebrations of his teammates — both young and old — were indicative of how Lucas stands with his peers.
They were all visibly delighted for him. The look of sheer joy on his face said it all. This is a man who absolutely loves playing (and scoring) for Liverpool Football Club. Foreign players come and go — some leave a legacy which lasts for decades, while others disappear into obscurity. Yet very few ever become woven into the fabric of the club to the extent that Lucas has during his time on Merseyside.
Joining from Gremio for £5million in July 2007, Lucas has spent virtually his entire adult life in the city. He is an adopted scouser in the truest of senses. To him, the city means something particularly special — it’s where he and his family have lived for almost a decade. The place where his children were born and are growing up.
It’s clear that Lucas is not the player he once was, when named Liverpool’s Player of the Year in 2011. Back then, he was up there with one of the very best defensive midfielders in the Premier League. Later that same year, however, he suffered a cruciate ligament injury which would see him struggle to ever replicate his previous form.
Ever since, Lucas has lost more than a yard of pace to such an extent that he very rarely ever features in midfield now for Liverpool, except when exceptional circumstances dictate so. Under Klopp he has transitioned into a centre-back where his lack of mobility is less of an issue.
Pound for pound, of course, there are plenty of better footballers out there who Liverpool could go and buy to replace Lucas. Yet Klopp is a manager who values players not only as men who run around for 90 minutes on the football pitch, but as people who function as part of an institution. Lucas is integral to that, and his experience and personality are impossible to replace.
Without even having any first-hand experience of it, it would be fair to assume that Liverpool’s dressing room would be an entirely different place without Lucas. A father-like figure for his compatriots, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. A model professional for young players such as Joe Gomez, Trent-Alexander-Arnold and co. A player who has been through all the highs and lows of injuries, failed title races, cup final victories and defeats. He’s seen it all.
The way his team-mates and coaches speak of him, you get the sense he’s just a genuinely very well-liked and integral player in the Liverpool squad, who carries himself superbly and leads by example. It’s not something money can buy and it’s not something you want to lose.
Although Klopp may be prepared to let Lucas leave in future, it’s clearly not something he actively wants to happen. It’s more of a case of giving a loyal player the option to get more regular playing time at another club, should he wish to do so. Liverpool owe him that choice.
The German has since revealed that he and Lucas have an agreement in place which will keep the 30-year-old at the club until the summer at least. With Klopp’s side still fighting in all three domestic competitions, Lucas’ presence will be of value, no doubt.
What happens in the summer remains to be seen, at which point Lucas will have completed 10 seasons at the club — which should see him get a testimonial game in recognition for his services to the club over the past decade.
Liverpool may well have one or more trophies in the bag to celebrate by then — equally, they might instead be empty-handed. Lucas will still have that goal against Plymouth to remember, though, and if The Reds go on to win the FA Cup then Lucas will have played a major part in that.
It’s been a rough start to 2017 for The Reds. Until Wednesday evening Liverpool had yet to win a game in the calendar year, drawing three and losing one. That victory, courtesy of Lucas’s goal, was important to stop the mini-rot.
Liverpool have won in much more spectacular ways this season — but there’s something about a 1-0 win, away from home, with a Lucas header, which just feels hugely satisfying. He might not have come from the academy — and we need not sing that god-awful chant they have at Spurs for Harry Kane — but Lucas now feels, very much, one of our own.