Stevie on Lucas: I smile when I think of him
As part of a recent LFCTV documentary to celebrate Lucas Leiva's decade at Liverpool, Steven Gerrard spoke of his admiration for the Brazilian - both as a footballer and a man.
After 10 years of wonderful service to the Reds, Lucas now begins a new life with Serie A outfit SS Lazio after sealing his move to Italy on Tuesday.
The former No.21 shared a close bond with Gerrard, his captain for most of his Anfield career, and speaking during ‘Lucas: 10 Years a Red’- which can be watched on demand on LFCTV GO now - the ex-skipper discussed Lucas at length.
Read on for a full transcript of Gerrard’s interview from the documentary...
Steven, what were your impressions of Lucas when he first arrived here?
Well, I had heard a lot about him through Rafa [Benitez]. I knew Rafa was a big fan and he was trying really, really hard to get the deal over the line. I remember this kid turning up with long hair, he wasn’t a big lad and he was quite thin but I just remember a lovely lad coming through the doors who was very polite and very respectful. He looked nervous and excited, as you can imagine, and straight away you start thinking about what he’s actually done, to move away from his family at such a young age with his now wife. It’s a massive, huge decision to make career-wise so straight away you sort of have that respect for him coming to a foreign country. His English was decent, it’s certainly improved over the years, so credit to him taking a massive step and a big challenge on his young shoulders, if you like.
His first appearance in the league was as a substitute at Goodison Park. Who did he come on for?
It was for me! I’ll be honest and I admitted at the time, if you come off in any game as a Liverpool player you are disappointed, especially for a young kid who has got less experience than you. Credit to him, away from home in a Merseyside derby, he was fantastic. He contributed in the game massively and should have got the winner really. So credit to him, he done fantastically well and it sort of brought to my attention exactly what Rafa was going on about with this kid having a fantastic attitude, being good technically, fighting without the ball.
Now sitting here at the Academy, the biggest compliment I can give to Lucas is I turned up at the Academy and realised there’s a lot of talented players here with the ball. A big part of my job now moving forward is can I turn them into Lucas Leiva without the ball, if you like? They have got talent like Lucas with the ball but they don’t do what Lucas does without it in terms of dirty running, in terms of going into many collisions over the 90 minutes, going in where it hurts and sacrificing yourself for the team, doing the dirty work and emptying that tank every time. Basically performing for the supporters, how the supporters would perform if you can understand that. I think if we can get a lot of Lucas Leiva into these kids then the Academy will produce more players who are ready for the physical demands of first-team football because he’s blessed with it, he’s blessed with talent not just with the ball but without the ball as well.
When he first came, you look at the people he had to try and compete with for a place in the team - Momo Sissoko, Javier Mascherano, yourself, Xabi Alonso - do you remember it being tough for him?
I think it was tough for all of us because the competition for places was really big, not just for Lucas but myself at the time because I played out of position to get other top players in the team. I think that’s part of playing for Liverpool and that’s healthy competition, but for a young kid who is learning and developing of course I’m sure he’s seen it as a huge challenge trying to shift established internationals, if you like. Lucas has played many, many games now for Liverpool over a 10-year spell, which just shows his determination. It was tough for him at the beginning. There were a few groans from the media, a few groans from the fans, but to win the Liverpool supporters over and the Liverpool fans is a credit to him and it just gives you the idea of how strong he is mentally and what his mentality is all about. Surviving at a club like Liverpool for over a decade, it just doesn’t happen with talent. I’ve seen players come and go with just talent. The players that stay about and stay involved at a first-team squad like Liverpool are the ones who not only have got talent but have got an incredibly strong mentality as well.
Was he up there with the best holding midfielders in the league by the 2011-12 season?
I’ve seen him have phases in his form where he has certainly been one of the best holding midfielders in the league for sure, and I think there have been times when Lucas has performed on a higher level than me, Alonso and Mascherano. He’s definitely had phases in his form, of course he has, I’ve seen that. Lucas is a competitor and he’s not easy to train against and I should imagine he’s not easy to play against in the big games as well. As a holding midfielder, I look at people who I’ve played against and played with and I’ve been blessed to have played with some top holding midfield players and you wouldn’t like to play against them - Lucas, Mascherano and Hamann certainly come into that category. As a No.10 I wouldn’t like to play against him because he is physical, he is clever, he picks up good positions and if he gets asked to do a certain job Lucas more often than not does it well.
He was cruelly stopped in his tracks by an ACL injury he picked up against Chelsea in November 2011...
I remember watching the game and he was in the form of his life and before he went off he was probably the best player on the pitch. It was a huge, huge setback for him and I can relate to it because I’ve had similar setbacks myself throughout my career, and there’s no worse or no lonelier place than when you have a long-term injury, especially when you are in the team, in good form and you are first pick. Especially as well when your manager is Kenny Dalglish you are in a hole and a rut straight away, and I felt for him there because I think he was in the form of his life. But for me, I think the making of Lucas from the first moments I met him have been challenges and setbacks. I think the man becomes stronger, he almost flexes his shoulders and says to himself ‘Bring it on - OK, if that’s what you think of me and the situation I’m in, I’m going to prove to everyone I’m going to bounce back and I’m going to bounce back strong.’
Lucas admitted to us that he would have liked to have played more for Liverpool since 2013, but he's always been a valued member of the squad...
He’s never let anyone down. I could probably agree with his feelings that maybe he should have played more at times and I can understand his frustrations. Maybe there’s been times when he’s felt he has done well and been sacrificed for someone; maybe a bigger name, maybe me at times if I’m being honest. We all have them frustrations and them feelings where you want to be on the teamsheet, you want to be in the XI every single game. That’s credit to the player because I don’t like these players that just stay about in big squads and they are happy to just be around the fringes and stuff. That’s credit to Lucas to have that attitude where you want to be in the XI and you want to train every single day like it’s the last session in your life and you want to push people who are maybe ahead of you in the pecking order. Lucas has always done that. I really can’t sit here and talk about a fault, if you like, or a flaw about his character or his attitude because I can’t find one.
Just to sum up then: You know him on the pitch, off the pitch - how would you describe him as a person?
I just smile when I think of Lucas because I’ve spoken about the player and what he gives to the team with and without the ball, but the person as well is just as important, for me. He is certainly one of the best people I’ve met through my journey in my career. I’ve got plenty of time for him and he’s got a superb family supporting him. I wish them all the best. For me there’s always a place for Lucas Leiva at Liverpool Football Club and he’s always welcome to come back here. I’ve got a lot of time for him.
How Scouse is Lucas Leiva?
I think he’s 49 per cent Scouse by now surely! You look at these foreign lads that come in and they stay around for a long time and they start picking up bits of the lingo. His kids are 50 per cent Scouse. For me he is only 49 per cent Scouse and the reason I don’t say 50 is because he would say himself he is 51 per cent Brazilian! He’s on the banter, he’s on the wavelength, he’s great for the dressing room. He’s just a superb fella.