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18th Jan 2017

Lucas Leiva’s long awaited goal was the perfect reward for Liverpool’s most respected professional

The midfielder has forged a special place for himself at the club

Tony Barrett

Had things turned out differently Lucas Leiva would have been in Italy tonight rather than chaperoning a group of youngsters on a trip to Plymouth.

As it was, the collapse of a proposed move to Inter Milan allowed him to do what he has been doing for most of the last decade as he once again proved his value to Liverpool. 

If the goal he scored turned out to be decisive  – not to mention caused an outbreak of shock given it was his first in 201 games, or, to put in ever sharper focus, since Ben Woodburn was ten years old – it was the professionalism he displayed throughout an arduous FA Cup replay which underlined his worth.

“I scored in training last week,” Lucas joked afterwards but it is not clear whether there are any witnesses to said event. Over the course of his Liverpool career, though, there are countless individuals who can testify to how important he has been to the club and most tellingly, it is his managers and team mates past and present who provide the most glowing testimonies. 

Not for the first time, Liverpool had been willing to let Lucas go this month only for Inter’s bid to take him on loan to come to nothing and not for the first time the Brazilian responded to coming close to the exit door by offering a reminder of why he is the kind of player who managers like to have around. 

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)


“He led by example,” said Steven Gerrard, a man who knows better than most what leadership means.

Lucas is no longer first choice at Liverpool, in reality he is probably fifth choice centre back as well as providing back-up in midfield. But when selected, he can be relied upon to give his all, to use his experience to good effect and to perform with typical diligence. Those are qualities that should not be underrated, even if there are individuals in the current Liverpool team who have ones that catch the eye more readily.

While no one, not even the man himself, would claim that Lucas is one of Liverpool’s greatest ever players, there is a strong argument that he is one of their most outstanding professionals of the last decade. In terms of dedication to the cause, willingness to persevere whatever the odds and commitment to his team mates, the midfielder has few peers in the modern game. 

If that feels like he is being damned with faint praise it shouldn’t. Of the values and characteristics that managers look for in players, Lucas has all of them and for that reason he continues to be cherished.

The great shame as far as Lucas is concerned is that it was when he had established himself as a first choice player, one of growing influence and presence, that he was struck down by the kind of injury which goes well beyond being a mere setback.

It was in a Carling Cup tie at Chelsea in November 2011 that he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, an injury so severe that Lucas feared he might never play again. Even after sustaining it, he attempted to play on before the severity of the problem rendered his bravery forlorn.

Then manager Kenny Dalglish freely admitted that his team would be tested by Lucas’s long term absence and he was proven right as Liverpool’s form suffered without their defensive shield. As Dalglish put it: “He won’t beat five or six players and put it in the back of the net, but he may be the man who stops the guy going past the first one and sets us on our way.” As each of his managers at Liverpool recognised, every team needs a player of that kind.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)


Despite what he offered, Lucas was not always appreciated. His early days at Anfield were particularly testing, none more so than when he was booed by his own fans when coming on as a substitute against Fulham in September 2008. “That was my most difficult moment,” he admitted later but it was one that he would come through. Coming into a midfield which had Javier Mascherano holding, Xabi Alonso controlling and Gerrard marauding was never going to be easy and Lucas, a youngster from Brazil, was always going to suffer by comparison.

Significantly, though, while he struggled to find appreciation outside of his own dressing room, those inside it quickly came to recognise just how much he had to offer on and off the pitch. Rafael Benitez stood by him regardless of criticism of his performances, Roy Hodgson kept him despite his name appearing on a list of players to be sold that had been compiled by Christian Purslow, Dalglish made him a central part of his plans and Brendan Rodgers came to rely on him, describing him as the squad’s “social architect” even though he had initially attempted to replace him.

That ability to convince those who matter most of his value to the team means Lucas is now Liverpool’s longest serving player, a title that would have been passed to Jordan Henderson had he joined Inter, and he is also among their most popular. 

A friend, confidante and calming influence to Luis Suarez during his most troubled times, he also acts as a bridge between the foreign and English players and the senior and junior members of the dressing room.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)


Those who have suffered serious injuries, such as Joe Gomez and Danny Ings, have tapped into Lucas’s experience of going through a similar ordeal, while those who are struggling to adapt to English football or culture, like Roberto Firmino when he first arrived, also tap into his knowledge.

At Liverpool, respect for Lucas is universal even if it has been hard earned and that was evident when he reeled away to celebrate the headed goal that took the club he has served with such loyalty into the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Mobbed by his younger team mates, it was the babysitter who was having the most fun. Klopp might have focused on youth once again but he ended the night being indebted to a veteran.

Catch up with this week’s episode of 888sport Football Friday Live: