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Golden Ball boy Lucas is ready to glitter on the big stage at Anfield

LUCAS LEIVA'S luggage is in danger of being lighter than he hoped when he arrives on Merseyside next month.

The highly-rated Brazilian midfielderwill make the move from Gremio to Anfield this summer in a deal believed to be worth around £6million.

The 20-year-old was desperate to sign off in style in his homeland by helping his club win the Copa Libertadores - the South American equivalent of the Champions League.

“I wish to travel to England taking in my suitcase the Copa Libertadores title,” he told Brazilian reporters recently.

“I am very happy and thankful that I have been given the chance to remain at Gremio until the end of the Copa Libertadores because playing in this competition and having the chance to win it is something that I have been waiting for since I was a child.”

But after this week's first leg of the showpiece final Lucas' hopes of landing Gremio's third South American crown and their first since 1995 lie in tatters.

Boca Juniors, inspired by former Argentina international Juan Riquelme, who is on loan from Villarreal, inflicted a 3-0 defeat in Buenos Aires.

Gremio will need a miracle in Wednesday's second leg in Brazil, but with Lucas on form anything is possible.

The youngster rose through the youth ranks at Gremio and made his first team debut in 2005, helping the club win promotion back to the top flight of Brazilian football.

Last year he was instrumental in Gremio clinching the Grande do Sul state championship for the first time since 2001 and finishing third in the national championship, earning qualification for the Copa Libertadores.

Lucas' efforts were rewarded when he became the youngest ever recipient of the prestigious Golden Ball, awarded by Brazilian sports magazine Placar to the domestic championship's top player.

It's an honour won in recent years by Carlos Tevez, Robinho, Alex, Kaka and Romario.

His performances attracted the attention of Brazil boss Dunga and last October he was called up into the senior squad for the first time but has yet to win his first cap.

Rafa Benitez made his move for the youngster after having him watched at the South American Youth Championships in January.

Lucas was skipper of Brazil Under-20s and bagged four goals as he led his side to glory.

He is expected to captain the team again at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, which start in Canada on June 30, before linking up with his new team-mates at Melwood.

“He is a fantastic player for the present and the future,” Benitez said.

“He can be a holding midfielder but he likes to go box to box. He scores goals and is a complete player. Lucas will be ready to join the first-team squad from next season.”

A run of sparkling performances from the nephew of former Brazilian international Leivinha also led to interest from a host of top Spanish and Italian clubs but he opted for the five times European Champions.

“I really didn't expect to leave Brazil so soon but what I have been offered and the team from which it came made it impossible to say no,” Lucas said.

“Liverpool have made me an excellent proposal in the financial and professional aspects.

“I also realise my departure will be a huge help to Gremio in resolving some of their financial difficulties.

“That makes me happy with the decision and makes me calm with the decision that I took of accepting the transfer.”

Gremio, based in Porto Alegre in the South of Brazil, have gained a reputation for unearthing gems. Barcelona star Ronaldinho and winger Anderson, who is set to join Manchester United from Porto in a £17million deal, are products of the club's youth academy.

The BBC's South American football correspondent Tim Vickery believes the Reds' first major signing of the summer has got what it takes to follow in their footsteps.

“These moves are always a gamble, but I think this is a good one,” he said.

“He's an exciting player of a type that Brazilian football hasn't produced too many of recently.

“Of late their central midfielders have tended to be 'holders' who sit and allow the full-backs to push forward.

“Lucas is different. He's a big, blonde figure whose power and physical strength comes with attacking ability.

“He can pass well and loves to rumble forward. He gets on the scoresheet both with blistering shots from range and from bursting beyond the strikers.

“You can certainly imagine him playing alongside Javier Mascherano, for example.”

Lucas will be part of a growing band of South American talent at Anfield.

Argentine left winger Sebastien Leto, 20, also arrives this summer from Club Atletico Lanus.

He was signed back in January for around £1.8million but has since remained in South America on loan.

They join the trio of Argentines already on the books - Mascherano, promising full-back Emiliano Insua and centre-back Gabriel Paletta, as well as Brazilian Fabio Aurelio.

Paletta struggled to impress last season after his £2million move from Banfield but Vickery insists Lucas is a very different proposition.

“I don't have the same fears for him as I did with Paletta,” he said.

“Lucas has had two full seasons behind him - one helping Gremio win promotion from the second division and then last year's success when he was chosen as the player of the championship.

“In a perfect world you might want him to stay another year before moving on, but firstly Gremio need to sell to balance the books and secondly with Liverpool's strength in depth in central midfield it looks as if his first campaign will be a bedding in season.”

Copyright - Liverpool Echo




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