Anfield transformed the career of the Liverpool star before his exit reduced Jurgen Klopp to tears
Tributes have poured in for Lucas Leiva after the former Liverpool man announced his immediate retirement from professional football.
Leiva made 346 appearances for the Reds during his 10-year stay on Merseyside. He announced his retirement on social media on Friday night.
The former Brazil international, who was temporarily sidelined from the game after suffering a heart problem during pre-season training with Gremio in December, joined Liverpool from Serie A side Lazio in the 2017 summer transfer window.
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This means that May 21, 2017 is a date that will live long in the memory of the former midfielder. It was Liverpool’s final game of the 2016/17 campaign – and a game the Reds needed to win against Middlesbrough to secure a top-four finish and return to Champions League football – it was also the last time Leiva would play for Liverpool. .
Georginio Wijnaldum opened the scoring before half-time, with Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho both helping the side cruise to a 3-0 victory. It was certainly the start of something special under Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool reached two consecutive Champions League finals, winning in 2019.
He may not have had the stats and flair of other Liverpool midfielders past and present, but Leiva was well-respected and popular among the dressing room and supporters.
The early days of the club were difficult, to say the least. Competing with Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano – it was not easy for the then 20-year-old. He faced the lowest point of his Liverpool career when sections of the Anfield crowd were held to a 0-0 draw against Fulham in 2008.
“Fulham was the worst moment because it was the first time it had ever happened to me, but it was an experience I could learn from,” he told the Independent in 2009. “Maybe it will happen again but now I have the experience. You understand, the supporters. When you were waiting for Xabi (Alonso) he was on the bench.
“The game wasn’t good, we weren’t playing well, so I understand. Playing well is the only way to change.”
And play well, he did. Over the course of a decade, Leiva became a reliable, no-nonsense midfielder who eventually won support. As such, he was later named player of the season for the 2010/11 campaign.
Klopp may have been the fifth manager to play for Liverpool, but the Reds boss still embraced and was emotional when he finally left in 2017. “Things change, but Lucas is a special case,” Klopp said five years ago. “He asked (to leave). I would say he’s a friend. He’s a wonderful person.
“It was great. When he left, we both had a little tear in our eye. It was a really special moment. I told him the door is always open after his three years and (if) I’m still here. Of course, then we’ll find a place for him. I am sure he will be a great trainer or coach.’
Leiva himself described the decision to leave Liverpool as “the most difficult” he has ever had to make. In an open letter to supporters, he wrote: “When you love the club and the city as much as I love Liverpool, that’s not an easy decision to make. The easiest thing for me would be to stay here as much as I can, although I don’t expect to play as much, but I believe that as a footballer and a competitor. It would go against everything I have.
“That’s why I’m joining Lazio, which means that my sadness at leaving Liverpool is combined with the real excitement that I’ll be representing one of the great Italian clubs. Before I made the decision to take the opportunity to go to Italy, I discussed my situation with Klopp and the way he handled it showed once again the respect with his players.
“Liverpool Football Club and its fans will always hold a special place in my heart. As well as this, the personality, humour, dignity and integrity of the people of this city will remain with me forever.”
Even after his departure, as he continued to play his football in Italy, he remained a fan favorite. The season after his departure, Liverpool fans hijacked a vote that voted him Lazio’s player of the season with 71% of the vote. A year later, they did the same and this time he got 88% of the votes.
There was a clear outpouring of love for the Brazilian in the hours after it was announced that everyone should hang up their boots. The end is far from the early days of his Liverpool career.