Benitez's 'pet' Lucas becomes real workhorse

Brazilian midfielder hopes endeavour will finally win over his critics.

Rafael Benitez was fond of telling the story of how he had to drag the then Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry to a fax machine to ensure the club tied up the services of Lucas Leiva before Manchester United got in first.

It was when Benitez divulged exactly the same anecdote about the Italian defender Andrea Dossena that the scenario seemed to be the product of the rancour the Spaniard often seemed to feel for Parry, but the former Liverpool manager was certainly always determined to demonstrate that he called it right on Lucas. Benitez's actions seemed to be bordering on the bloody-minded as the Brazilian's name kept appearing on last season's team sheets. Lucas appeared more times than Javier Mascherano in Benitez's final campaign and only once fewer than Steven Gerrard. The Anfield Road was not always delighted.

It's not easy being considered the manager's pet project when that manager happens to have gone and the arrival of Christian Poulsen and, after Mascherano had been sold, Raul Meireles contributed to the feeling that Lucas would be yesterday's man in the Roy Hodgson era. That is why the sight of the 23-year-old, many observers' man of the match in Sunday's 2-0 win against Chelsea, suddenly revealing why Benitez saw so much in him is remarkable.

Lucas reflected yesterday on how fragile his grip on a Liverpool career has seemed in the light of Hodgson's arrival. "Everyone knows Rafa had a lot of confidence in me, so last season was different," he said. "Everyone could [also] see the manager brought in a midfielder [Poulsen] while Mascherano was [also] here. We had a lot of midfielders. But I don't really think about things too much. If at the end the manager doesn't play me, it is his decision. All I can do is work really hard."

This test happens to have been set as Lucas has needed to prove to the new Brazilian national coach, Mano Menez, with whom he worked at Gremio, that Dunga was wrong to omit him from this summer's World Cup squad.

But Poulsen has not yet proved the asset Hodgson probably thought he was getting for £4.5m and Meireles has curiously found most success on the right flank in a position previously alien to him. Lucas's performances, meanwhile, have hinted that his match-winning display against Manchester United in October last year – he and Mascherano were simply too powerful for Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick – was not a flash in the pan. "It is also good to show that there is more to Brazilian players than just tricks," Lucas reflected. "You need to show that you can do the dirty job for the team. That's what I'm trying to do. I play defensive and get forward when I can."

Lucas is often making this point and is an ardent admirer of Milan's Gennaro Gattuso, another player in the same role with whom he happens to share a birthday. Yet he actually seems to be undervaluing the more creative part of his own game – visible as he set up Maxi Rodriguez for what might have been a third Liverpool goal on Sunday. Lucas actually seems to fit into a heritage of the old-fashioned Brazilian No 5 – including Clodoaldo from the 1970 World Cup-winning side – who sits as a defensive shield but creates too. Lucas has tended to look at his most impressive for Liverpool when given the licence to advance up the field.

Benitez's faith in Lucas makes it easy to forget that the defender is still only 23 and yet an experienced Premier League player. "I'm getting older and I think I am getting better," he said. But for him, like Fernando Torres, the most genuine test of whether Liverpool really are rehabilitated from their poor start to the season comes tomorrow night at Wigan, the scene of a horror show in a 1-0 defeat last season. "That game felt like a heavy defeat," Lucas reflected. "It was clear that we didn't play well. But every season is different. We have three victories in a row and are five games unbeaten. We go there with confidence."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable