Victor Hugo, the great French novelist of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame said “Perseverance, the secret of all triumphs”. If he was alive today, I would argue that he was referring to Lucas Leiva. Whose membership of the Cult Hero Club should have been announced years ago.
There are innumerable cult players who have graced Anfield over the years. Erik Meyer and Titi Camara come to mind, as those whose stay at Liverpool was short and sweet. Others though, like Jan Molby, have created a fan club for all their perceived weaknesses and thrived – Molby could never be described as a box-to-box midfielder, but that didn’t stop us enjoying the sheer beauty of his passing ability. So, in the cult status criteria, Lucas Leiva should be up there with the best of them.
Lucas arrived in 2007, under the stewardship of Benitez and has subsequently played under 4 different managers since. It was said that he was a box-to-box midfielder, that he was an integral part of Gremio’s third place in Brazil’s Campeonato Serie A. Which probably explains why Liverpool fans, at the time, thought what they were getting was another Falcao or even Zico. So, when they saw the blonde-locked youngster, they expected the sort of skills now exhibited by Coutinho and Firmino. The disappointment in him was audible from the crowd when he appeared in the red shirt.
Having been at Liverpool 9 years now, he has been unstinting in his ability to survive through treacherous times at the club, having to deal with a change of position and struggling, if we are honest, to cope with the Premier League in those early years. Which is why, when he finally goes, his serving of the red shirt should be admired – not just the ability, but the mental strength to overcome set-backs and make himself almost unsaleable!
When I say this, it is because I have lost count of how many times Lucas’s name appears when a transfer window opens. There seems to be a constant quest to sell him to a Turkish club, although, I have no clue why. Yet, when the transfer window closes, Lucas is still a Liverpool player and always gives his all to that sacred red shirt.
Last Saturday was the epitome of his stickability.
Liverpool are cruising, they are playing the best football, over a concerted period of time and then in front of the Kop, he prods a ball across the box for Jamie Vardy to tap in and give Leicester hope and break the fragile killer instinct that Liverpool were playing with. As he joked later, ‘it was his first assist in ten years’!
Let us ignore that for a moment. There is a bigger issue here. Klopp has central defenders such as Ragnor Klavan and Sakho. One has the ability to read the game, the other has pace. But Lucas is put in at centre back alongside Joël Matip (who looked a class apart), and excelled. Lucas has no pace at 29 years old. He was never the quickest anyway. So, to put up him against the sharpness and pace of Vardy and the guile of Mahrez seemed almost suicidal. But neither of them really had a sniff all game. Both were subdued by the temporary centre back partnership.
It is clear to see that Lucas has the ability to read the game. Having football played in front of him suits his style and I am sure if you asked a young Lucas Leiva whether he could play centre back, the response would be an expletive too far for this article.
Over the years the rapprochement between the fans and Lucas is something that is very special. Here is a player with no exceptional ability: he is not your typical Brazilian of your dreams; there is no outrageous skill; there is no ego strutting about the pitch but neither does he go missing in a game. The game is simple for him. Collect the ball and pass it on. When he steps into midfield as he did on Saturday he has a good eye for the right pass and he plays with his head up. Even as a centre back, he has a positional awareness that many centre backs don’t have. Vardy might have had pace to burn, but Lucas was never lost in his vapour trails.
It seems to my untutored eye that Klopp recognises the culture and the intelligence of Lucas. There is a trust in this player that he doesn’t have in, say, Sakho. This Brazilian leaves nothing in the dressing room and now, as a centre back, he commits far fewer fouls than he did when he was a defensive midfielder.
I have to admit that I was one of those ‘groaners’ when I saw his name on the team sheet. But now, I think he is the most dependable player we have. His calmness and his knowledge of his own ability makes Liverpool a better side when he is playing. There is also the small matter of celebrating every goal as though he has scored it, which we know is never going to happen!
The Kop sang his name after he made the mistake on Saturday and I think that every Liverpool fan should embrace this Brazilian and make him our cultured cult hero! There is no better fit for this title than Lucas Leiva. The man who gives his all for the sacred red shirt and rejoices like a fan when we score.
Let us be out and proud- Lucas is Our Man!
Written by Colin Duffy