Along with selected other LFC fansites, we were given access to the affable Brazilian, and discussed various issues, ranging from his injury troubles and difficult beginnings at the club, to a passionate defence of his fellow South American, Luis Suarez, and the appreciation he now receives from our supporters.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear here, before we begin: Lucas is an incredibly nice (and at times, funny!) chap.
He seems to have a very down to earth and warm personality, and was very engaging with all involved – which is not something that players at his level always are, especially when being interviewed!
He (or the club) was not briefed on any of the questions that were fired his way, and he answered without the usual boring PR fluff that can, at times, accompany player interviews when conducted by the wider press. He seemed genuinely interested to speak, and a humble honesty shone through.
The humble honesty in his answers was something you could just sense as he spoke. This was made all the more realistic in knowing that he has come through what was an excessively difficult (and perhaps unjust) period with the club’s support, for the crime of simply not being Steven Gerrard or Xabi Alonso when he initially joined the club at just 20 years of age.
However, an incredible turnaround has seen Lucas’ name go from causing groans of disappointment when seeing his name on the starting team-sheet, to groans of disappointment when knowing he is not starting. It’s been well documented that Liverpool have missed the Brazilian’s presence in the midfield for nigh on 12 months now through injuries, with fans bemoaning the misfortune of not having him in the team.
It is an irony not lost on Lucas, who talked about the current situation without even the slightest hint of bitterness, or ‘told you so’ attitude, a lesser person might have succumbed to:
“Many times I thought maybe I was finished [at Liverpool]. But I always felt something different, that told me to keep going and keep trying to change the opinions. I think people have started to realise the work that I was putting [in] on the games…and maybe [at that time] it was not working the way that I wanted and the way you [the supporters] wanted as well, but people start to realise that I was trying everything I could in that period, and maybe they started to give me more credit. That’s when I felt everything was changing. [Now] I’m trying to enjoy it and keep doing exactly the same as what I used to do.”
Lucas Leiva: ‘Kop Cult Hero’ is something he would never have imagined possible back then, but that’s exactly what the 25 year old has become. Mock Levi’s ‘Leiva’ t-shirt? Check! Adidas Golden Samba winner? Check! And it is this award that confirmed to Lucas he had finally turned around the opinion of so many supporters:
“It was the trophy that showed me I’ve changed the opinion of most of the people so it’s in a nice place where I can see it often. I never imagined that I could be voted! It was something to show me that my hard work was being noticed…unfortunately when I got my injury I felt my hard work was even more appreciated!”
Lucas also credited his heritage for the battling spirit he demonstrated when experiencing the tough times at Anfield, and feels it’s because of those times, that he’s now mentally stronger to deal with any situation:
“There is an expression in Brazil that we say: ‘We are Brazilian, we never give up!’ and I think I followed that very well. It was hard for me when I came; a young boy, no idea about the Premier League – the way the football was [played] here, the culture and the city…so everything was a big change for me.
“That period made me stronger and made me realise where I was, and that’s why every day of my life I just try to give my best here for this club, because I really know how big this club is and how much people from outside the club, and the supporters, expect from you.”
During his time at Anfield, Lucas has been joined in midfield by some truly talented world-class stars, including, ‘the best midfield in the world’, during his early days. Live4Liverpool asked Lucas if he felt more inspired or more daunted during this period, when Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano also played in his position, and who of those had a big influence on him:
“It was a privilege to have these players in training every day and watching [them], so that’s why during my period when I wasn’t getting too many games, I just had to watch them and try to, not copy, but you know, play the same way they play.
“Everybody’s different, but I think I learned a lot and it was very positive to have them around – I still have Stevie around. Always you can improve, even when you get 30-32 years old you still can improve and that’s what we can see in a few older players, that if you are open to learn and listen I think you have a big chance to become a better player. “
Now standing (well, when not injured!) peerless as Liverpool’s midfield anchor, Lucas may be better equipped than most to guide the influx of youngsters that have hit Brendan Rodgers’ squad this season (as well as those of a tender age, who were already deemed first team members, *cough Jordan *cough), who may suffer from any loss of form. Does he see any similarities of his difficult experiences, in any of the current young members of the squad, and would he offer advice?
“I think so. As I said the expectation is very high – it doesn’t matter if you’re 18, 32 or 35. I see some criticism about a few young players and sometimes I feel it’s a bit unfair because if you are young, you have ups and downs. That’s when you become a top player, when you have consistency. Nobody will be a top player when 18 or 20, maybe a few, but normally [it comes] when you get older with more experience.
“I just try to be around and tell them what I’ve been through here when I came. I think it’s important. We have now a lot of young players coming in and doing well but at some point they will play bad – that’s normal – you just have to respect it, and you as a fan and supporter, instead of putting them down, just try to cheer them up and give them confidence because confidence is maybe 50-60% of the game. If you have confidence, you try more and you take the risks more.”
One player Lucas is full of support for is fellow South American, and close friend, Luis Suarez. Lucas talked about the animosity shown towards Liverpool’s number 7, and his recent vilification over ‘diving’ – ridiculously highlighted in the British media as a ‘foreign’ disease. Does Lucas feel that nationality plays a part when referees award fouls?
“I don’t think we should compare English with foreign players, I just think the foreign players, maybe what they do, it’s more noticed. Why? I don’t know. Maybe, because if we don’t know the language, we don’t know how to express [it] in the pitch with the referees.
“It will always be like that. I’m sure that what Luis does is just…everything he does, it’s more…everyone notices more. When he [should have] had a penalty against Norwich we didn’t see many comments about that, so it’s just hard you know. I can just say that Luis is a very great guy and very family [orientated] man and he’s a different person ‘on’ and ‘off’ the pitch. That’s why he such a big player because he has this attitude and he wants to win everything – on the training pitch and sessions he doesn’t like to lose so, it’s just his character.
“I’m very close to Luis and I just feel sorry sometimes for him because it’s hard. But he just worries what the Liverpool fans think, and what the Uruguay people think so that’s what matters for him at the moment. But he’s a very nice guy and sometimes you have people that criticise you who do not know you very well, so you just have to accept that and just keep doing what he’s doing, and that’s why everybody would love to have him on their team.”
There was talk of the future, and what Lucas thinks is in store for both him, and Liverpool FC during the next 5 years:
“In five years I’ll be 30! Hopefully fit and strong…and still here! In 5 years I can see us achieving a lot of things. The last 3-4 years have been very difficult and these difficult moments have to go sometime, so hopefully we can start to achieve and, how can I say…[somebody shouts *win the league!*]...Why not? We have to have this dream and have this in our mind. Everyone is working here to do that one day.
“We know at the moment it’s not been possible but if you see players like Daniel Agger, Suarez committing themselves to this club and signing new deals, it just shows how much these players believe. I don’t think nobody would want to stay in a club that really don’t think we can win anything – especially for foreign players I think, because if you are so far away from your house, your family, I think we should have a nice career. That’s what I think. We have shown in the past we are capable, so why can’t we get back [there]?”
The talks continued, and various other topics were discussed with Liverpool’s number 21, including who he would sign for Liverpool from the current Brazilian national team: “I would sign two: Neymar, and Thiago Silva. For me, Thiago Silva is the best centre-back in the world. Neymar is already proving himself in Brazil but I’m sure he’ll be coming to Europe very soon…but I don’t think he will be very cheap! Ha!”
And with that Lucas, laughing, joking, and making sure he went and shook everybody’s hand that was present, left the conference. His name is Lucas, and he is a Brazilian Gent. Obrigado.