It’s always great to see a player win over his club’s supporters. And, for Lucas Leiva it seems as though this is the case. His first two years at Anfield, after being bought for £6 million from Gremio in July 2007, were average to say the least. The Brazilian was seen by many Liverpool fans as a waste of money and a squad player at best. But this season Lucas seems to have come of age – it is easy to forget he is still only 23 – and the Kop are starting to see what all the fuss was about when he was plucked from his homeland nearly three years ago. He even has a few chants being drawn up – a sure sign that his talents are starting to be appreciated.
While Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres have been The Reds’ star men again this season, injuries have stopped them from getting on the pitch together on enough occasions. For that reason Lucas has probably been Rafa Benitez’s most consistent performer, an accolade that would have looked unlikely this time last year. Last summer the Brazilian international bulked up and that extra strength has helped him look far more comfortable in the Premier League. Last summer Benitez vented his anger at the media for targeting Lucas, labelling it unfair.
He said: “Lucas has a very good mentality. But for someone of his age to suffer such criticism from the experts on TV is wrong. He is so good but still he was criticised. I have been really surprised at the amount of criticism he has had to cope with from the pundits, the so-called experts. Lucas is still a young player but he has experience. And after the display against Stoke everyone can see, even the so-called experts on TV pundit panels, can see he is a very good player. Hopefully they will now stop using him as a target. He is a very good lad, an excellent professional. I find it hard to understand that if you are an expert on TV, you cannot see these things.”
The criticism he received was unjust – he is certainly not the first foreign player to have a slow start in the English game and he won’t be the last. But, Lucas meanwhile, put a brave face on it suggesting that the flack he took made him emerge tougher. His experience in England initially was nothing like the easy ride he got in Brazil and maybe his initial period in this country has helped spur him on to make him a better player.
At the beginning of this season he stated: “Back in Brazil everything seemed to progress perfectly for me. I played well, scored goals and won titles. Since I have moved to Liverpool, I’ve had some difficult moments. However, those experiences can help me. They have made me mentally stronger. I have done plenty of work in pre-season, I am better able to cope with the physical side of the game here. I will be able to get forward more and I believe I can have a good season. I have confidence in myself – you need that in life, not just football. So no matter what, I believe in myself and the manager does too.”
And this belief seems to have helped the South American enormously this campaign. No longer is he seen as a flop. He is now seen as an integral component of this Liverpool side. We may not even have to wait too long before Lucas Leiva is being sung proudly by the masses in the Kop.