Lucas Leiva is the Undertaker of Liverpool Football Club. Not a funeral director, although fans have said they’re near death after watching him fly in recklessly to give away a free-kick in a dangerous area, but the wrestler.
His streak currently reads 10-0 having been at the club for a decade. There have been near falls and close calls, he’s been linked with moves to Inter Milan, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce every summer since 2010 but he’s durable. In an interview with The Anfield Wrap he revealed that if Javier Mascherano had stayed with the club in 2010 he would have left. It was one or the other.
“For me it was really hard because I didn’t know [my future] until Mascherano left. I knew that if Mascherano had stayed I probably would have to leave because there was no space for me. So he left and then I had to stay. [But] it was like if he goes ‘you stay’, if he stays, ‘you go’.”
That same season he went on to become an integral part of a depleted midfield. Just when it looks like he’s beaten he puts in a an of the match performance and he’s over with the fans.
The Deadman of Death Valley has a rival in the the form of the Brazilian of Anfield Road.
He’s reinvented himself just like his WWE counterpart too. It wasn’t as extreme as going from a literal Undertaker gimmick to that of an angry biker but he did go from an attacking midfielder to a defensive one before Reds manager Jürgen Klopp started to use him as a centre-back.
He’s even got a catchphrase. It’s not as haunting as “rest in peace” but hearing a Brazilian with a scouse twang shout “unlucky” can be just as ominous.
The various incarnations of Lucas as a Liverpool player have all had their moments but he’s perhaps enjoying his best season for the club under Klopp. The German put his trust in the versatile midfielder, much like Vince McMahon trusts the Undertaker, and even opted to play him ahead of recognised defender Ragnar Klavan in certain matches.
There appears to be a mutual respect between player and manager.
“There’s something special [going on] I’d say. The group of players we have and the manager knows what it takes to win.
“We’ve seen how much we’ve improved in the last 18 months as a team and as a club. Everyone is a lot more positive because he arrived here and gave us that extra energy.”
His ability on the ball, coupled with his presence in the air, meant the former Borussia Dortmund manager gave the 30-year-old a starring role in his possession based system.
With injuries mounting up to midfielders he took up a defensive midfield role and over recent weeks he’s been chipping in with assists on a regular basis. In an amazing turn of events, Lucas has now has as many assists in his past five Premier League outings (3) as he did in his previous 163.
Emre Can’s bicycle kick against Watford got all the plaudits but it’s worth remembering it was Lucas who played the superb lofted ball to the German powerhouse. In the defeat to Palace the former Gremio man threaded a well executed pass through to Roberto Firmino which should have resulted in a goal too.
“We have worked a lot on movement in training,” he explained of his duty in midfield.
“I’m trying to improve and add [assists] to my game and hopefully next will come goals.
Perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks? But has all of this come a little too late for the cult hero?
Why it’s time for Lucas to finally move on
“You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain”
He’s not getting any younger, his legs aren’t getting any quicker and the game isn’t getting slower. On top of that, no matter how many admirable performances he puts in he’s always that one reckless moment away from gifting the opposition a goal. Whether it’s a rogue pass or a mistimed tackle in Liverpool’s defensive third, the opposition always have a chance of a goal with him on the pitch.
With an increasing number of teams lining up against the Reds with the sole intention of defending deep and hitting them on the break his shortcomings are going to be even more exposed. It’s painful watching a player age before your very eyes.
Even his unique quirks which originally endeared him to the fans will start to grate if he’s having a negative impact on the team on a regular basis. Resentment creeps in and supporters won’t look to the manager and question why he’s selecting him, instead they take their frustrations out on the player.
There’s an argument to be made that he’s a player the club should keep around. He has experience, he seems to be a big personality in the squad and his versatility means he can man a few positions.
But why would he? In a slower league he could do a job and he could be playing for another five years. Why would be choose to be a squad player when he could be a starter elsewhere and Liverpool could put his reported £80,000-per-week wages to better use.
His contract expires in the summer and a move to Galatasaray is yet again being reported. This is an ideal opportunity for all parties involved. Lucas leaves having had one of his best seasons in recent memory to go on to be a first-team player in Turkey and the fans give him the send off his loyalty deserves.