Lucas Leiva’s time at Liverpool is drawing to a close.
With only six months left on his current contract at Anfield, the 29-year-old is set to join Italian giants Inter Milan on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a free transfer in the summer.
Having made just eleven appearances this season, Lucas has struggled to maintain a regular first-team spot, either in midfield or central defence, with the latter increasingly his permanent position because of the competition ahead of him.
However, the Brazilian international is only at best the club’s fourth choice centre-back, behind Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan, therefore it is no surprise to see Lucas consider his options elsewhere.
Lucas’s departure is not down to poor form – far from it. He has excelled in defence since Jurgen Klopp arrived, but Matip and Lovren are the established duo, and Lucas will not be the player to break that partnership.
Nine and-a-half unforgettable years for Lucas
Yet with over 300 appearances for the Reds since joining from Gremio in the summer of 2007, Liverpool fans should rightfully mourn the loss of their unique, but tenacious Brazilian.
Rafael Benitez originally signed Lucas as an attacking midfielder, after rave reviews from the then 20-year-old’s homeland. However, Benitez’s faith in Lucas puzzled many football fans in general, let alone Liverpool fans watching on a regular basis.
In his first three years, Lucas offered very little to suggest he could succeed at Anfield for the long-term, attracting ire and eventual anger from Liverpool fans from his poor displays, such as his red card in Liverpool’s defeat to Everton in the 2009 FA Cup.
Lucas partnered Javier Mascherano for most of Benitez’ final season in 2009/10, due to Xabi Alonso’s departure and Alberto Aquilani’s injuries, and this truly began his progression into an established defensive midfielder.
Yet Lucas was still inconsistent, and unfortunate in having to live up to Alonso’s high standards, which was forced upon him because of Aquilani’s constant absences.
Moreover, under Brendan Rodgers, Lucas was in and out of the team due to injuries, so he has barely featured in the more successful Liverpool sides of the last decade.
So why is he held in such high regard by Liverpool fans, and how has he managed to stay at the club for almost a decade?
Lucas has never been a world-class player; however everyone at Anfield has immense respect for his professionalism and attitude. For at least the last three years, every summer speculation always surround’s Lucas’ future at Liverpool, with an Italian team seemingly always linked.
It appeared that he was edging out of the exit door each year, only to decide at the last minute to remain on Merseyside, despite the knowledge that he was unlikely to be a regular, particularly in the late Rodgers era and under Klopp. Many at the club appreciate his commitment and passion for Liverpool, and this appreciation is reciprocated by the fans.
However, Lucas is admired most for how he turned his Liverpool career around, becoming a genuinely excellent defensive midfielder for a couple of years – to the envy of most Premier League sides.
Ironically, Lucas’s peak arguably arrived under Liverpool’s ill-fated period under Roy Hodgson, before continuing under club icon Kenny Dalglish.
By 2011, Lucas was almost firmly established in Liverpool’s first-team line-up as a key player, until he suffered an awful cruciate ligament injury against Chelsea in the League Cup, missed the club’s victory in that competition the following year and has never quite recovered since, certainly not in midfield.
Once Rodgers arrived, his preference for quicker midfield players and Steven Gerrard’s deeper positioning meant Lucas struggled to re-establish himself as a regular whenever he was fit, which was another struggle for the Brazilian during this period.
Now in the final phase of his Liverpool career, Lucas has moved to his third position in the centre of defence, which prolonged his desire to stay at Anfield and the club’s interest in retaining his versatility.
Alas, with switches to striking or goalkeeping positions a stretch too far, it appears the boy from Brazil will depart what has become his adopted home, having grown in more ways than one while with the club.
While not a permanent, world-class presence, his longevity and dedication in proving himself to be a worthy player for Liverpool has to be admired and appreciated.
There should be no doubt that Lucas deserves a rousing send-off in his final appearance, which is likely to be against Sunderland on Monday.
Yet whilst Klopp may feel comfortable that Lucas’ absence will be compensated with Joe Gomez’s return, personally it would have been perfect to see Lucas stay until the summer before departing for Italy. Turning thirty a week after the Sunderland game, he would then have a decade of service under his belt with Liverpool. Therefore, a farewell testimonial would have been appropriate given how Lucas’ relationship with the Liverpool fans has developed during his time at the club.
Sadly, this looks unlikely to happen, but whilst his time at Anfield does not compare to past and modern greats such as Dalglish and Gerrard, the way Lucas transformed himself, both on the pitch and in the eyes of the crowd, means his name should be forever regarded with warmth at Anfield.