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Lucas Leiva Is Not a Flop, At Least Not Yet

Lucas Leiva in action for Liverpool

At age 22, Zinedine Zidane was playing in the Intertoto Cup with Bordeaux. At that same age, Éric Cantona had just got a move from Auxerre to Marseille. Rivaldo had just moved from Corinthians to cross-town rivals Palmeiras in São Paulo.

With the money involved in today’s game and globalized scouting networks, such players would already have been with one of the European giants before they had the chance to establish themselves in their local teams. It’s hardly a surprise when the major European clubs get linked with and buy an obscure teenager in South America, who is tagged as the “new Messi” or “Ronaldinho’s heir.”

But potential doesn’t always translate to development. Equally still, little promise can develop exponentially.

Zidane, Cantona, and Rivaldo’s cases show that it’s not how much you achieve in your early 20’s that defines the rest of your career. These players all stayed in familiar surroundings before making the step up to a major European club. It was only until their mid-to-late 20’s that these players became giant names in world football.

Of course, there are always precocious youngsters who make the grade early on. Perhaps because their game relies on speed, like the two Ronaldo’s or Messi. Perhaps because their physique develops more quickly, like Rooney.

But early spark doesn’t always illuminate the rest of a career. Nicky Butt anchored the midfield for Manchester United in the 95/96 season with Roy Keane and that partnership always came out on top in physical battles. Paul Scholes, who had a much smaller frame than Butt and was frequently deployed further up the pitch, was sparingly used. Today, Nicky Butt plays for Newcastle United, Paul Scholes for Manchester United.

Lucas Leiva is 22 and is already at Liverpool. It is presumptuous to say he will be as successful as Scholes, Zidane, Rivaldo, Cantona, or even Nicky Butt. But to say he won’t turn out to be fine player is equally unfair. He has been thrust on the biggest stage earlier than some of the greatest midfielders of their generations. He has already played in a Champions League quarterfinal, captained Brazil’s U-20 team, finished runner-up in the league with Liverpool, and been capped for the senior Brazil national team.

For us to label him as a flop is premature. A player doesn’t have to progress at Messi’s rate to become a world class player. Lucas deserves time and Liverpool fans should wish the best for him, however much he may struggle now or in the coming years. He is only 22 and already plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world. He is certainly on the right track.

Alfredo di Stéfano was 27 when he crossed the Atlantic to join Real Madrid. When he was voted European Footballer of the Year for the second time, he was 33. The next year, he won the last of five consecutive European Cups with Real Madrid. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. Where was he before joining Real Madrid? Colombian football.

Even the greatest need time to develop at their own rate. So does Lucas.

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  1. Gary Carribine

    March 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Can i just say, CONOR hit the nail on the head, lucas is a attacking midfielder and has never been a defencive midfielder or a holding midfielder, i mean look at the 2nd leg game against lille in the europer league for example, when he pushed forward in to the attacking midfielder position he was outstanding and was man of the match and won us a penalty from 1 of them blistering runs he was known for in brazil, and plus hes probably been are 3rd best player this season behind reina and torres, i personaly admire the player and believe he will become a wonderful prospect for my beloved Liverpool F.C, he is a quality player who is out of position, give him a break and lets support the lad

  2. Jonathan

    March 21, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Lucas has definitely become an average player but who plays well behind the ball. He’s nowhere near as bad as many make him out to be. The problem is that he and the other Liverpool players are in a system that Rafa Benitez controls. Lucas does what Rafa asks him to do. I saw Lucas play while he was still in Brazil and I thought he had a very bright future (he was footballer of the year in Brazil). He looked a very creative player with loads of potential. I think playing under Rafa Benitez has hurt his chances of getting to be a top player. Rafa does not encourage creativity or flair in his players. He wants them to work hard and play within his system; a system not designed to attack or play flowing football. I think Liverpool could use a new manager who isn’t as stifling and controlling as Benitez.

  3. Lucas is Rubbish

    March 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Seems like Benitez likes hardworking players with minimal footballing brains like himself…… I pray for the great LFC to be still called a big team if Benitez is still going to be in charge…..

  4. Lucas is Rubbish

    March 21, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Lucas is simply not good enough for LFC and the EPL…… no manager other then Benitez will field a player like him as a first teamplayer. Putting him on the bench will probably make him think about how he can improve his game….. What’s the point of playing evey game running like a headless chicken??? Lucas got to reflect about his play and how he can be a better player….

  5. Dominic Santoro

    January 6, 2010 at 7:51 am

    lfcforeverandy your so right. People are just saying hes crap becuase he hasnt got the passing gifts of Alonso. Lucas will get even better and he already has imporved loads. This season he has made us tick with foward passes honestly. HE IS VERY GOOD.

  6. lfcvoreverandy

    December 17, 2009 at 7:48 am

    for so called fans to slate our players are a disgrace themselves lucas has been getting better and better so grow up and start supporting the boy instead of trting to find every fault possible for not wanting him at lfc

  7. Luk

    December 14, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Lucas is a disaster, a nightmare of Liverpool’s fan. I think Liverpool is better off play 10-men squat. Hope that he is with ManU or what else but never be Liverpool.

  8. Staff

    December 8, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    but all these players were where they were because of the team, and liverpool just arent good enough,so lucas cant do it all on his own

  9. Ji Sung Park

    December 5, 2009 at 11:49 am

    My name is Ji Sung Park and some people refer to me as “God”. I do not proclaim to be God but I have significant power in the footballing world and control all actions and events that happen in all football matches….

    Since my creation, I have learned of the untold power that I possess and I have deemed it necessary to surround myself with a number of hand-picked “disciples”.

    Lucas “Sambafoot” Leiva is one of my “disciples” along with Emile Heskey and other high profile football players and Hollywood actors such as Nicholas Cage. Through the medium of Lucas, I am currently in the process of teaching the world that hard work and persistence is necessary in order to fulfill life-long goals and aspirations.

    I have blessed Lucas with the significant attribute of boundless speed….a much needed attribute in modern day football. It is known amongst myself and fellow disciples that Lucas can in fact travel at the speed of light. However, Lucas has learned to harness this speed in order to create equal opportunity to players that have minimal speed e.g. Craig Bellamy and Theo Walcott and Titus Bramble.

    As a teaching mechanism, I have controlled the play of Lucas closely, intentionally forcing him to make bad passes and lose control of the ball. This is to encourage the community of the world to never give up and strive for greatness. I encourage you all to heed the example of Lucas.

    Sambafoot will have his day, and when that day arrives, the world will take notice and worship Lucas for eternity.

    Take heed, for I am the chosen one…..I am Ji Sung Park.

  10. KTW

    November 29, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Totally disagree with MJP. Liverpool is not a football school, it deserves better player to contribute and play a decent game for its supporters. There are other places for Lucas to learn football.

  11. Ste

    October 24, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    Lucas is the worst player we have got at Anfield. Stats dont lie. The central midfield is the key place especially for a top european club and he fails miserably at it (just like my spelling). Over 80 appearances he’s made (better players have made less) He should be playing a lot better than he is. To be fair he is playing better than last year and he’s still crap. He doesn’t dominate games even the much lesser ones (remember Preston North End and how the game changed for the worst when he went on in the second half).

    Lets swap him for the beach ball that played at Sunderland.

  12. brn442

    September 6, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Like many a Liverpool supporter, I’ve scratched my head more than once at Mr. Lucas’s exploits on the pitch; either flashes of brilliance with no end product or lethargic, inaccurate passes, and loss of possession, the same with Mr. Babel. I do agree with you that in this era of instant gratification, many Liverpool fans forget that these two players are still very young. Probably because they didn’t come out of the Liverpool youth system (Like Manchester) or were one of Wenger’s babes, hence – they’re not given the patience by the media or fans. However, football is a young man’s game; most fans will accept inconsistency with youth, as long as there are signs of improvement (Walcott, Agbonlahor). I can’t remember when last these two players had a smashing match or a decent run of form. Babel needs to play more but based his disappointing first start I can see why Benitez thinks differently – he probably should be loaned out. Lucas must prove to himself and to the Club that he is at least; becoming a better player. He is Brazilian and it’s a World Cup season so I’m hopeful.

  13. Erik Kim

    September 6, 2009 at 3:26 am

    MJ! I like your insight on the premature affirmations on young players such as Lucas. Just as you said, with money going around so fast in the soccer world, both fans and club administrators (coach included) look for talents that develop just as fast, on the lookout for instantaneous results. Also, at this rate, the soccer career span for a player will probably be significantly shortened. Players such as Maldini, on their mid 30s, gradually disappear as they are taken as professionals at the end, or even past, their career peak.

  14. conor

    September 5, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Lucas is a decent player and was our best during preseason, people think he is crap because he is being compared to alonso for christ sake, people say he cant tackle etc. maybe becuz hes an attacking midfielder being played out of postion and on top of that all the liverpool fans are on his back

  15. LI Matt

    September 5, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    At age 22, Lionel Messi is an Olympic gold medalist, 2 time CL winner, first time Spanish treble winner, etc

    At the same age, Johan Neeskens was a 3-time European Cup winner, and had scored a goal in a World Cup final.


    Where was [Di Stefano] before joining Real Madrid? Colombian football.

    Well, you have to remember the context. Di Stefano came out of the River Plate youth system, then took a big-money offer to play in Colombia’s outlaw league.

  16. Borrowed Ladder

    September 5, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    I think I can safely speak for supporters of every team (sans Liverpool) in the Prem: I hope he stays at Liverpool his entire career.

  17. Drew

    September 5, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    “Liverpool fans should wish the best for him”

    Yea I wish him the best playing for another team. He can take Babel with him….

  18. Laurence

    September 5, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Good article. Thank you!

    I am not the biggest fan of Lucas, but not because of him; I believe Rafa could have found a better player for that position if he hadn’t tried to flex his muscle with Alonso.

    Anyway, agreed if all these managers have seen something in him then they have to get it out of him on game day and he has to do the same. You see flashes right? So working with Gerrard and Masch he can learn a lot and develop!

    Thank you MJ P.

  19. Tom

    September 5, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    There’s giving him time to progress but when he has the touch of a rapist and the tackling finesse of a moose it’s hard to see how he’s going to improve.

  20. Gareth

    September 5, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    At age 22, Lionel Messi is an Olympic gold medalist, 2 time CL winner, first time Spanish treble winner, etc 😛 just had to throw that in there har har har

    • Ali

      September 9, 2009 at 8:05 pm

      please don’t just go throwing in stats about Lionel Messi, who i would like to add to my delight found himself useless and frustrated last Saturday against a brilliant Brazil side, almost reenacting his lame performance against Chelsea in the Champions League semis.
      ps. you should consider changing the manner in which you laugh, if i may suggest to you: hahaha or ajajaja would be more respectable
      …..MJ Park i enjoyed you’re article, and despite having little respect for Leiva let alone Liverpool you have convinced me not change the channel every time he looses possession, and i thank you for that because there is no much on tv these days…

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