Arriving at Liverpool Football Club in 2007 on the back of an award winning season at Brazilian side Grêmio, the box-to-box midfielder whose forward runs were as footloose as his shoulder-length hair, was signed by Rafa Bentiez to compliment an already impressive midfield contingent.
Lucas Leiva was the second Brazilian to play for Liverpool, after Fabio Aurelio, and became the first player from the country to score for the club with this goal against Havant and Waterlooville in the fourth round of the 2008 FA Cup.
The Grêmio version of Lucas was a midfielder who would do a job at both ends of the pitch – late bursts forward in attack as well as able cover in front of the defensive back line. He would often play the role of “Segundo Volante”, which in Brazil is the second and slightly more attack-minded of two deep midfielders.
Here’s Lucas arriving late in the box to score a headed goal for Grêmio:
The first “Volante” or defensive midfielder would play the stricter defensive role as a shield in front of the back four. It is this position which Lucas was eventually moulded into at Liverpool with mixed success.
Lucas’s ups and downs at the Liverpool are well documented. His rollercoaster ride of a career has given him good experience to draw from when it comes to advising the younger players currently at the academy, as well those who’ve made the breakthrough into the first team in recent years.
Earlier this season, he played alongside first Jordan Rossiter and then Jordan Williams in the League Cup match against Middlesbrough. He guided them through the game where required but also gave the young pair the freedom to do their own thing – a luxury which they may not have had alongside a different type of midfielder.
He was, also, instrumental in the club’s signing of Philippe Coutinho, acting as a translator between Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool’s current number ten. Coutinho commented:
“The manager and I did not speak before I signed, it was Lucas who passed me all the information I needed. He told me how the club works, the style and the structure of the club and how we play. When I signed I already had all the background information I needed because Lucas and I spoke for a long time. The decision for me was made quite quickly on this basis.”
Lucas is a player who’s always showed character within the squad, which is a quality he’s had to develop in order to bounce back from the low points in his career. At his peak in 2011 he was one of the best in his position in the league, as well as winning the fans’ player of the season award for the 2010/11 campaign. However, this high was followed by perhaps his lowest low as he suffered a crucial ligament injury at the end of the year.
The long-term physical effects of this type of injury and the usual spate of injuries which follow such a long lay-off have affected Lucas’s game. He’s had to adapt his game further within the limitations imposed upon him, and despite the decrease in mobility he’s still managed to remain a useful part of the Liverpool squad.
There have been inevitable low points since the injury, but these were sometimes caused by systems of play which ask him to do too much, or play alongside an incompatible partner in the centre of the park.
When paired with another immobile player in midfield Lucas struggles to keep up with some of the trickier attacking midfielders the English league has to offer. But when used in a system which suits his game, and played alongside more dynamic players such as Henderson, Can, Allen or even the aforementioned Rossiter and Williams, then he can be a valuable cog in the machine.
His passing game is underrated while his reliability on the ball as the last man in midfield can go unnoticed. He was often the man who looked for Luis Suarez when the Uruguayan dropped deep, and was the only Liverpool midfielder with a 90%+ pass success rate in the 2013/14 season.
Even in the latest incarnation of Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers, Lucas has proven his worth to the side and was one of the faces who came in to help turn Liverpool’s ailing 2014/15 season around, proving that the club need one of his type in the squad.
As well as the role he plays on the pitch, Lucas appears to play an important role off it. There are several older heads in the Liverpool side, but few of them have the experience which Lucas has – a football upbringing on a different continent, and 24 caps for one of the most under-pressure national teams in world football.
It looks likely that Lucas could be allowed to leave Liverpool at the end of this season, but whilst the defensive midfield position may have required an upgrade since the departure of Javier Mascherano, the gap left by Lucas could create as many problems as any new arrivals will solve.
This is where the team will need those young players who’ve spent time with Lucas this season and most recently during the international break, to step up and show their face in the first team. Rossiter, Williams and Pedro Chirivella, all have the technical tools to play football at a high level. Hopefully, under Lucas’s tutelage, they’ve learnt a thing or two about the mental side of the game.