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

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

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent