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?
Life and Style

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty

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

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album