Lucas Leiva: An Apology To a Hidden Brazilian Diamond

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Lucas Leiva: An Apology To a Hidden Brazilian Diamond
Jed Leicester/Getty Images

I, like most people, hate being wrong.

It's not a nice feeling to know that you have completely misinterpreted something and have expressed opinions you now know to have been unfair and ungrounded. It makes one feel foolish and slow witted.

But, every now and then, being wrong is nice. It sometimes happens that you sit down one day and realise that the thing you believed was true is, in fact, false and you are damn glad to eat your humble pie, accept you were wrong and thank the Gods that they have seen fit to show you the error of your ways.

Enter Lucas Leiva.

I, like most Liverpool fans, was not a believer in the talents of the Brazilian midfielder. Bought from Gremio for £6 million as a 20 year old attacking midfielder that captained the Brazilian under-20 side, I was one of many fans salivating at the prospect of having the next Kaka in the ranks.

And, like most fans, I was sorely disappointed.

Lucas looked very little like the next Kaka. He was slight in build, worryingly slow, ponderous while in possession and showed what I saw as a rather Brazilian disinterest in winning the ball back once he had lost it.

The 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons passed in a blur of fan dissatisfaction with the blond Brazilian. He was often the butt of fans jokes and was increasingly seen as an example of the spend-first-ask-questions-later philosophy that categorized Rafa Benitez' reign at Liverpool and lumbered us with opprobriously expensive misfits such as Josemi, Luis Garcia, Robbie Keane and Andrea Dossena.

While initially the decision to deploy the Brazilian as a holding midfielder designed to win possession and dictate the pace of the game was derided as a farcical concept that would expose Lucas lack of pace or physical competitive zeal, it is true that we saw from time to time glimpses of the talent inside that had made the lad a Brazilian international.

I watched with awe as he played that beautiful through ball to Gerrard against Newcastle (And I'm sure you all remember it.) I watched with bemusement as he took over from Xabi Alonso in the match at Old Trafford where Liverpool ran out 4-1 victors because Carrick and Anderson couldn't even get a loan of the ball off Lucas.  

Was that really him, I wondered? But then I saw another subpar performance or another game he was sent on from the bench to rescue where he failed to make any impact, and I rapidly re-embraced my old opinions. A couple of performances does not a footballer make.

This guy was the least samba Brazilian I had ever seen. He was no good.

Benitez, however frustrating and single-minded to the last, seemed to never lose faith in the weedy Lucas.

"People just don't know how good Lucas is" he said.

I for one didn't want to know. It was just another example—just like the rotation system and the playing of Stevie G on the right wing—of Rafa being too pig headed to change his ways or rescind a decision even where it was for the good of the team.

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There was no way Lucas was ever going to make it. He was just on the team to underline Benitez' decision making authority and satisfy his overbearing pride.

And then came 2009-2010, the loss of Alonso and the proper introduction of Lucas into regular first team action. He was to sit alongside Mascherano and run the show for Liverpool.

As a fan, I baulked. The thought gave me sleepless nights. How could we cope? He started and Liverpool were poor and we lost games and ground and finished in a lowly seventh. It was an awful season.

Benitez was fired and all his pride and arrogance vanished and there was no longer any need to keep perpetuating the illusion that Lucas was a good player. His great protector was gone. Mascherano was gone. A new midfielder was desperately needed.

Surely to God, this was the end of Lucas Leiva at Anfield.

Except, of course, for the slightly disconcerting fact that Lucas had been just about Liverpool's best outfield player that season. Yes, we had been dire, but as a team we were dire.

And, in a season bereft of bright spots, the development of Lucas Leiva—although not heralded by the press—was not lost on me.

Hodgson came in and told him that he was free to leave and yet, for all the anger and scorn poured upon the young man, I—having noted his supersonic development at the position—had started asking the question. What if I was wrong? What if he was, after all, a proper Brazilian midfielder?

But I shunned the thoughts. There was no use getting caught up in what might be. He had been an OK player in a bad team. He had not been a match-winner. Maybe he was better than I gave him credit for, but that did not mean he was good enough.

And anyway, he was reviled by the fans. How would he ever win us over? Maybe getting rid of him was best for all parties.

However, through luck or chance or judgement or fate, Lucas stayed with Liverpool. And the rest, as they say, is history. He worked his way into the first team early this season and he has never looked back.

In a season of many ups and downs, he has been consistently excellent.

On Sunday, Liverpool beat Chelsea in Stamford Bridge. Liverpool played a midfield diamond where Lucas as the holding player had to deal with the forward surging runs of Lampard, Essien and Anelka, as well as the free roaming talents of Drogba and Fernando Torres.

They never got a sniff. He was absolutely magnificent. And as a fan, I was not surprised. Magnificence is now what I expect from the little Brazilian I never liked.

Having watched him this season—despite him being perpetually overlooked by pundits in favour some of his more illustrious compatriots like Meireles and Gerrard—I have been forced to come to the conclusion that Lucas Leiva is a top notch footballer.

I have fought it and doubted it and railed against it. I am like most people. I do not like being wrong, but a fact is a hard thing to argue with.

Watching his laconic, non-perturbed grace on Sunday as he harassed and robbed Chelsea of the ball time and again before initiating another slow and methodical attack, Lucas Leiva killed the last seeds of doubt in a very vocal naysayer.

He was the best player on the park and by no small distance.

Lucas Pezzini Leiva, I apologize for having doubted you. And I can't remember ever being happier about being so totally and completely wrong.  

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