Lucas Leiva understands he is finally accepted at Liverpool

Lucas Leiva says 'playing for Liverpool brings a similar kind of pressure to when I represent my country.' Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian
After more than three years on Merseyside, Lucas Leiva still struggles with the local accent, but understands it well enough to work out that Liverpool's supporters are now singing his name without irony. But although his relationship with the fans at Anfield has improved immeasurably, the Brazilian acknowledges that his every move will be scrutinised each time he steps on the pitch. It is a familiar feeling.

"Playing for Liverpool brings a similar kind of pressure to when I represent my country," Lucas says. "Both sets of fans have a very low tolerance level of defeat and will not hesitate to demand more from the team. Playing for Liverpool is like being watched by Brazilians!"

The 24-year-old midfielder should know, having featured in each of his country's last five games since being called up by the new coach Mano Menezes, under whom he played at Gremio. Alongside Chelsea's Ramires, Lucas has formed a solid midfield partnership that, barring a late injury, should start Sunday's friendly against Scotland at the Emirates.

Nonetheless, Lucas reveals that he had to convince Menezes he would fit into his plans. Since taking over from Dunga after Brazil's dismal World Cup quarter-final defeat by Holland last summer, Menezes has introduced a more traditional attacking game while Lucas has been deployed in a more defensive role by Liverpool than he was at Gremio. "In Gremio I had carte blanche to go forward and participate more in the attacking plays. But things had to change when I arrived in Liverpool, where I am used much more as a holding midfielder. That transition took time and made settling in even more challenging. It was necessary to prove to Mano that I could still be useful."

Indeed, Lucas partly attributes his struggles to win over the fans and his early lacklustre performances at Anfield to being asked to change his game by the then manager Rafael Benítez when he arrived in 2007. The Brazilian rarely got a glimpse in the first team and even created problems for the club indirectly – in Brazil's 3-0 defeat by Argentina in the 2008 Olympic semi-finals he earned a red card in a dangerous tackle that also injured his club team-mate Javier Mascherano.

"Things were not looking good and some supporters were obviously not happy," he says. "I still think people needed to see the bigger picture. The move to Liverpool represented a change of country, language and there was also the not so small detail that I was only 20 and arriving at a traditional club in one of the most demanding leagues in the world. Also, few people seemed to remember Liverpool had a group of players that had made two of the last three Champions League finals. It would have been impossible to just parachute in. Maybe the supporters thought a Brazilian midfielder would do magic.''

His frustration and anxieties were alleviated by a combination of long conversations with his parents back home and the support of Benítez, who publicly backed him while privately advising Lucas to keep his head down and work harder. Lucas speaks fondly of the role the Spaniard played in rebuilding his confidence and it is no surprise that Benítez's departure last summer was a huge blow, not least because the Brazilian thought the club would sell him at the first opportunity.

"How could I blame Liverpool [if they had]? At that point I had not had a sequence of games long enough for people to see what I was all about. I had the feeling they were not counting on me for the new era. But at the end the club and I reached common ground. I was happy because nobody would want to leave a club as big as Liverpool without a true chance to show their abilities."

Not that there was any immediate chance for Lucas to do so. The arrival of Roy Hodgson in Benítez's stead was followed by a collective dip in form that resulted in Liverpool going out of the Carling Cup and into the bottom three in the Premier League. Reports indicated the players had lost faith in the manager. Lucas, however, fervently denies any mutiny contributed to Hodgson's entry in the history books as Liverpool's shortest-serving manager.

"We lost Rafa and until the pre-season there was not a substitute," he says. "Roy simply brought a philosophy that did not work with the team at that time and this is not the first or last time it will happen. This rumour about us not working hard enough is nonsense. And so was the questioning of Roy's managerial capabilities. He did a great job at Fulham and now is doing well at West Brom."

Hodgson's departure at the start of this year brought the return of an Anfield legend under whom Lucas, and Liverpool, have prospered. The midfielder had met Kenny Dalglish in his ambassadorial role at the club and the manager had also featured heavily in Lucas's crash course in Liverpudlian culture when his move to Merseyside was finalised. Along with piles of Beatles CDs, Lucas devoured DVD anthologies of Liverpool FC goals. A good bunch were scored by his now-manager.

I could see that Dalglish was unbelievable as a player, but he has also made an impression on me as a manager. The world is full of great players flunking as managers. But Dalglish has rescued our confidence and at the same time he has helped us think a bit better."

Dalglish and his assistant manager Steve Clarke have masterminded a change which Lucas says was most evident in the team's first-half display in the 3-1 defeat of Manchester United this month. "During the week of the game, Dalglish talked about the possible United line-ups and made sure we understood how important it would be for us to give them some of their own medicine. He went on and on about suffocating them in midfield. We had a great afternoon doing what he said. His mantra is: make it simple and work together."

Impressive enough for Lucas to forgive his Scottish manager's banter in regards to the London friendly. In the last few weeks, Dalglish has constantly told his player that Scotland will finally break their duck against Brazil in their 10th meeting. After a promising start under Menezes, with victories over the US, Iran and Ukraine, Brazil stumbled against Argentina and France. Winning at the Emirates is essential to keep the fans on board.

"It's a new era and the team is still gelling, for a lot of players who were around in the last World Cup have departed," says Lucas. "We lost both games 1-0, with Argentina scoring in the 90th minute and against France we played almost 60 minutes with 10 men. Scotland will be desperate to surprise us which makes our responsibility to ensure they do not even greater."

When Lucas returns to his club, he will have more on his mind than mulling over the aftermath of the game with Dalglish. With his club contract ending in 2012, Lucas is hoping to re-open talks over an extension: He wants to stay and has even joked that would like to see his newborn son Pedro Lucas speaking English with a Scouse twang. But he is still waiting for the club's move.

"I have no reasons to go and I hope the club see things the same. It would be fantastic to play for Liverpool in the Champions League again and I don't see why we can't return.

"We have a squad that is united in its will and desire to return this club to where it belongs."

Copyright - The Guardian

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