Lucas Pezzini Leiva – The Man in the Arena, Um Tributo

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

[Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at Sorbonne, Paris, France, 23 April, 1910]

 

Not so long ago, in a far away land of tea and biscuits, on an auspicious night graced by the presence of around forty thousand commoners, two factions known for their sporting credibility faced each other on a chalk marked 67m x 103m pitch to have the ultimate showdown. The North Westerners donning their red battle dress, fresh from suffering a remarkable loss at the hands of their South Eastern opponents, arrived to the city of London in the hope of redemption without their battle hero, Colonel Steven from the House Liverpool. It was the grandest of occasions, promising to be an utmost spectacle of a clash of the titans. Meanwhile, millions of miles away from the battleground, an eleven-year-old boy hailing from a different realm had all of his concentration on the outcome of such a monumental event. Evidently, the stakes were high when it involves the concern of a hopeful child who recently had found a place for himself amidst the heroes of the North West.

In a conflict sustaining around ninety minutes, involving a round shaped object called a “football”, heroes continued to strive to soar over one another. Amidst all the commotion, to the little boy’s surprise, a scraggly twig of a cadet rose to the occasion striking a heavy blow to the enemy defences towards the end of the battle, which filled his heart from half-way across the world with hope. A hope for a last surge to come out victorious over the other side. The battle ensued, but despite their valiant efforts, the men from Liverpool failed to conquer their South-Eastern counterpart, bearing a blue coloured flag with the symbol of a lion.

Broken and disappointed, boy chose to take a moment to himself, and wonder about the diminutive presence in the centre of the pitch who had given him hope for a priceless moment or two. That was the day which had struck a chord in the young boy’s novice perception of the concept of a hero — coming in all shapes and sizes, marred by dust and sweat and blood in the wake of a battle.

That slender framed hero’s name was Lucas Leiva.

Liverpool's Lucas Leiva - The Man in the Arena, Um Tributo

 

Little did he know about his young follower who had already chosen to embark on a journey with him — of crests and troughs, of resilience and maturity, of love and friendship. It’s all about a journey that takes a diffident foreigner unsure about his place amidst the respected, to an adored Major with an infectious smile, a journey of millions of eleven-year-olds growing up along with the Brazilian. Nobody could have imagined that his tale of evolution from a state of underconfidence and self-loathing to a valiant man of the arena would go on to touch hearts of the old and the young. His efforts reaffirmed the people’s faith in the very foundation and spirit of their sporting faction on which it was built upon, and managed to silence the doubters over the decade, and maybe even his.

Because it’s not always about the sword, but also about the often overlooked shield. About the one who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause. That’s what a certain Theodore Roosevelt, believed a century back.

Coming from a faraway land with a bag full of hopes and dreams, a twenty-year-old Lucas, with  long blonde hair held in place by an Alice band, had arrived at the promised land of Liverpool, specifically at the home of footballing giants, Anfield. Winning over the commoners of Liverpool, the ardent fanatics forming the very soul and pride of the city, was not an easy, and for a novice like him, unaware of the strange ways of the new land, it was a near impossible task. To come into prominence, overshadowing the likes of reputed war horses like Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, he needed a miracle.

And a miracle did arrive, with some help from a scissor: a haircut. Some say that the haircut did it for him, propelling him towards a classic tale of resurrection in the famed red. He would later go on to see past the superficial and realise the depths of the workings of the mind. With the haircut came the resurrection, his bravery on that ill-fated night down south, which was quickly followed by adulation from the fanatics, who took to his self-effacing demeanour and the tact use of his shield and sword to protect his brethren.

The sense of selflessness exuding from  Lucas’ personality made its way deep into the now adolescent teenager, connecting with the world with the help of tales about the great footballing faction, Liverpool FC. Meanwhile, adapting to the local culture of the Liverpool faithful, Lucas began to stand out as an example Battle after battle, week in, week out, he made progress all the while growing in confidence before everything crumbled down in front of him. Thud!

Lucas fell to the ground, unable to get up at all on an unfortuitous night facing off a well-known South Western opposition. For all his might and fortitude, the brave warrior writhed in agony all because of some damage sustained in a tiny band of connective tissue in the center of his knee. The teenager who never stopped rooting for him, learned a lesson that day — obstacles come in all shapes and sizes too.

Darkness slowly took over him — witnessing a fighter akin to the biblical David, witnessing the defeats at the hands of lowly factions, witnessing the downfall of the once great Liverpool FC, agonisingly. The Ancient Greeks used to call it “peripeteia” in their theatre culture, which indicated a reversal of fortune heading towards a  situation of tragedy. That’s what plagued both the man and his love: Lucas, his wounds, and his undying fidelity for his home away from home. For a man of simple plans and ingenious gait, his comeback in the form of disappointing Aristotle himself surprised everyone.

In the Greek philosopher’s Poetics, peripeteia is defined as the change that leads to the denouement of the play, but the once feeble boy from the land of tears and soul was having none of it. The best was yet to come, or so he believed. A year later, overcoming his physical strains, he returned. A bit older, a bit slower but definitely a bit wiser. Overcoming his inner demons, his doubts about whether he could put on his battle armour for his people ever again, he set foot on the hallowed ground of Anfield, in a different time, but with the same zeal and zest as before. Maybe not with the same swashbuckling swagger he had grown accustomed to. Nonetheless, he never lost hope.

Because that’s who he is actually. Behind all the battles scars and the scouse tang, Lucas Leiva is a humanizer who can soothe a raging atmosphere with his contagious optimism. As someone who knows how a young aspirer feels in a foreign land, he took on the responsibility of making new recruits feel at home on himself with the same glimmer in his eyes he had, every time he shielded an attack or took a blow for his own adopted family.

Just like a former legend of the past, Sir Billy Bremner,  who had a motto of “side before self every time”, Lucas too had an altruistic affinity shining off of him, aiding his pals in their time of need. Acting as an unifier both on and off the battlefield, the ever consistent people’s person had made a name for himself in the trenches in the decade he had learnt to love Liverpool.

Often he was found having a nice warm cup of tea with his lads and engaging in casual banter with the lot no matter where they were from, be it Runcorn or Rio. Because under the red banner of the club, everybody’s the same: brothers to one another. If that’s not what gets fanatics to romanticise the sport all over again, then what else will? Lucas Leiva epitomised the grit, determination and humility that’s required to succeed in life.

That is what echoed effortlessly in the teenager’s mind heading towards manhood, a composition about a human spirit stronger than the hurdles a man has to face in life. The lesson learnt: it’s not always about how hard one can hit but it’s about how quickly one can get back up after being hit himself. For the feeling of love, friendship and family. Sometimes just to exact revenge.

Now, after all these years, in this exact moment of time, the question is not that of what could have been if the unsuspecting infantry soldier hadn’t had got injured so agonisingly, but how for all those years he had managed to keep his feet touching the ground and get on with it. How Lucas Leiva managed to master the art of shielding, realising he would never be as good of a sword wielder as his compatriots, remains the question still. A question to which an answer would be an insult to the charm of the man. Because to get inspired by a man’s man, one need not unravel all of his nuances. The now grown-up boy knew that well.

He even knew that it was time for him to leave Liverpool FC too, and the fan didn’t have anything but to thank him for his service for so long. He chose to grow up with him eight years ago on that ill-starred night under the London sky, in a cathartic moment he only has a smile on his face. Because his braveness on the grandest of stages spanning a good decade has lead to this moment: a sense of belongingness and attachment in the fan now that he’s on his way. Because as fate may have it, the bond between those two unsuspecting individuals was not ‘unlucky’.

Life’s not a fairytale —  no gallant knights, no friendly giants. The tale of the boy from the streets of Gremio, who went on to attain cult status among his people reverberates in the hearts of many, because it’s a tale of a simple man. A simple man with simple ambitions: “Hello, my name is Lucas Leiva. You crossed the halfway line. Prepare to kiss the grass.” How his priceless experience and presence in the barracks among his youthful compatriots would be missed, that only time can tell.

For now, this is the boy, the fan, now a man, wishing him well although with some reluctance. To making people kiss grass in the land of la dolce vita, here’s to you, the man who went from being scratched off to an irreplaceable presence amidst the ranks. Here’s to the man who even at his worst, failed while daring greatly, so that his place would never be with cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Here’s to Lucas Leiva’s future, to conquering more arenas under a golden sky. I have nothing left to say but to thank him.

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Debkalpa Banerjee

Loves the deft nutmegs, time travel paradoxes, existentialist films, scrambled eggs, and some unhealthy fanaticism of the boys in the Anfield red.