LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 1, 2017: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva celebrates after the 3-1 victory over Everton during the FA Premier League match, the 228th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

THE term legend is used liberally these days, seemingly even more so where football players are concerned.

Gareth Roberts of these pages covered the topic recently, mentioning Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres. Both very good football players for Liverpool but by no means legends at the club.

But who qualifies as a Liverpool legend? The obvious names that spring to mind are Kenny Dalglish and in more recent times Steven Gerrard to name a few. Players who spent a large part of their career at Anfield, and it usually helps if they picked up a few trophies along the way. Players that left behind a legacy.

Another important attribute when it comes to Liverpool Football Club is embracing the city. Scousers are proud of their club and their city and they demand the same of those who are lucky enough to be a part of it. And there aren’t many players in recent times who have done that quite like Lucas Leiva.

People will immediately scoff at the idea of Lucas being a Liverpool legend. During his 10 years at the club he was rarely a regular starter, he never truly wowed supporters and only had one winners’ medal to his name. On that basis he isn’t a legend.

What he definitely did do is take the city into his heart and adopt the culture. He went from a straggly wig to a slick lid complete with an infectious smile and a Scouse twang.

What he lacked at times on the pitch he made up for off it. Helping new signings settle into the club and the city as though it were his own, making them feel as at home as he himself felt.

For all the criticism he received from certain sections of supporters during his Liverpool career he always gave his all and showed respect, towards the supporters and the badge. He knew what it meant to pull on the Liverpool shirt in a generation of footballers who seldom seem to understand the true meaning of loyalty.

Most who are linked with as many moves away as Lucas has been from Liverpool would have already made the leap. But that was a decision he took very personally and one he wanted to ultimately make when he felt the time was right.

Few players can attest to having had as many peaks and troughs as Lucas has had as a Liverpool player. Some didn’t really take to him when he was first brought in by Rafa Benitez. Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano could do little wrong in their eyes and the Brazilian would often take the brunt of the criticism should he play even the smallest of parts in any on-field disappointment.

Once Alonso and Mascherano both left the club, Lucas’s confidence grew and with that the performances improved. He had gone from a box-to-box midfielder with an eye for goal to a holding midfielder winning over the Liverpool faithful with tough-tackling yet composed displays.

Injuries threatened to hamper the good progress he had made but he was always reliable when called upon by Brendan Rodgers and later Jürgen Klopp, even if his role had diminished.

In the season just gone he showed versatility and professionalism to thrive as one of Klopp’s backup centre-halves and stood out as one of the side’s most improved performers. Despite his slight frame he excelled in aerial duels and never shirked from physical battles.

Off the pitch he took the younger lads under his wing and acted as a mentor to help them improve their game and realise their potential. Having left home as a 20-year-old, he had invaluable experience of overcoming the challenge of settling in to a new country and he wanted to share that wisdom.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 12, 2017: Liverpool's substitute Ben Woodburn shakes hands with team-mate Lucas Leiva after the 2-1 victory over Burnley during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That is the biggest loss to the club. While The Reds can go into the transfer market to improve their depth and build a squad ready to fight on four fronts in 2017-18, they can’t replace the experience and mentality they have lost in the dressing room after Lucas’s departure. You can’t pay world record fees to bring that in. It’s priceless.

Upon confirmation of his departure, his now former team-mates spoke of the loss to the dressing room and commended the person as well as the player.

In his open letter to Liverpool fans Lucas spoke about how he had been described as a Scouser by some supporters and said: “I might not have won as many trophies as I would have liked during my time here but to have people talk about me in that way means as much as any medal.”

Those are the words of somebody who embraced what Liverpool, the club and the city as a whole, is about.

He may not be a legend in the same sense as Dalglish and Gerrard. He won’t be mentioned as one of the great Liverpool players like Torres and Suarez. But he wears a badge which carries as much honour.

Lucas Leiva. Scouser.

All the best at Lazio, la.

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Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo

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