Is Lucas Leiva good enough to play for Liverpool Football Club? That’s the question that still divides Reds supporters’ opinions on Merseyside, three years after his move from Brazilian side Gremio. Despite making over 100 appearances for the club and becoming a first-team regular, the jury remains firmly out on Lucas. With Italian side Palermo desperate to land the Liverpool No.21, is it time for the club to cut their losses and let the player move on?
The expectation level placed on the Brazilian international following his £6m move to England in 2007 was enormous. The midfielder was making headlines in his homeland, helping Gremio to the state championship with a series of outstanding displays. Lucas also became the youngest ever player to receive the Bola de Ouro award, as the league’s player of the year in 2006, an award previously won by Kaka, Carlos Tevez and Robinho. When Liverpool managed to fend off reported interest from Inter Milan and Juventus to capture the player’s signature, many supporters felt that former manager Rafael Benitez had pulled off a major transfer coup.
Fast forward to 2010 and the start of Roy Hodgson’s reign at Liverpool and many fans are wondering if Lucas will ever fulfil his world class potential or if he is destined to go down as another mistake by Benitez in the transfer market. The Brazilian enjoyed his best season at the club last term with some much improved performances and is slowly beginning to win over the club’s doubting fans. Lucas is certainly not a bad player; it is more a question of whether he is good enough for Liverpool and is likely to improve. At 19 Lucas was hailed as the future of Brazilian football, but at 23 his lack of progression is worrying.
The weight of expectation seems to have been more of a hindrance than a help to Lucas throughout his Liverpool career. Following a settling in period and 32 appearances in a distinctly average debut season for The Reds, Lucas was expected to shine during the 2008/09 season. Instead Lucas endured a torrid campaign littered with inconsistent performances and glaring mistakes, most notably being sent off in an FA Cup tie against bitter rivals Everton before his side were eliminated.
While some fans are left baffled by his continued inclusion in Liverpool’s starting line-up, Lucas is obviously highly-rated by the managers he has worked with. Lucas has been tipped to star as a central figure in a new look Brazilian national side following their quarter-final elimination at the World Cup to Holland. Lucas was also named as Liverpool’s stand-in club captain during pre-season, a position he also held while playing for Brazil’s U-20s.
Lucas is not a naturally spectacular or extravagant player and sometimes his work can go undetected throughout a game. Lucas does the simple things well, offering both cover defensively with his outstanding work rate and help going forward when necessary. Lucas is often criticised for not being attacking enough and his presence in the team sheet alongside a defensive midfielder is often construed as overtly negative. He has also had to compete against world class midfielder Steven Gerrard, Spain regular Xabi Alonso, Argentina captain Javier Mascherano and £17m signing Alberto Aquilani for a regular run of games at the heart of the Liverpool midfield during his time at the club, a difficult task for any player in the world. To play the amount of games he has in such a competitive area of the team is impressive and his versatility in midfield is definitely a bonus for the squad.
Despite Palermo remaining confident of securing Lucas’ signature, the club’s valuation of the player remain poles apart. The Serie A side had a pitiful £3m bid knocked back last month but aim to return with a £5m offer before the transfer window shuts. Hodgson would also be reluctant to let another midfielder go after defensive lynchpin Mascherano revealed his desire to leave the club this summer. Lucas has been told he remains a key figure in Hodgson’s plans and the midfielder believes he can soften the blow of Mascherano’s departure by taking over Argentine’s defensive duties on a permanent basis this season.
“I know I am able to do that [occupy the Mascherano role] because last season I played a few games when Javier was at right-back,” said Lucas. “I’ve got no problem with doing that job. We all hope Javier stays because he is such a good player but if my chances come I will try and take them.”
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