Brazil is better known for its flamboyant number 10s than it is its towering centre-backs, but Lucio has never been one to conform to type.
The one-time Bayern Munich defender didn’t hit his very best form until his early 30s, and continues even to this day to defy any notion that age is a barrier to success. Lucio is still going at FC Goa, where, on the cusp of his 40th birthday, he’s helping to bring the emerging Indian Super League to a whole new audience.
His secret, mainly, seems to be strong genes. The Brazilian is strong and imposing yet also lean, and has always been quick across the ground for one so big. He’s also taken the right career moves at the right times: in 2009, aged 30, he swapped the Bundesliga for the quieter, more tactical surroundings of Serie A, just as his legs might have been threatening to abandon him.
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That followed an eight-year spell in Germany – three with Bayer Leverkusen and five in Bavaria – where Lucio, a skilful, thinking man’s centre-back, probably did more for his adopted homeland than many realised at the time. It seems impossible to think that the likes of Boateng and Hummels – accomplished ball players as well as fine defenders – wouldn’t have drawn inspiration from studying the Brazil giant (whether they knew it or not).
At Inter, alongside fellow (but much slower) South American Walter Samuel, with whom he formed one of Serie A’s most fearsome centre-back pairings, Lucio was a key component in Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning side.
It was proof that age, experience and know-how could capably substitute for youth and energy – many of Lucio’s teammates were also beginning to enter their twilight years: Zanetti, Cambiasso, Stankovic, Milito – as the Brazilian drew upon his years in he game to finally cement his reputation as one of football’s best defenders.
Lucio’s sharp decline after Mourinho left Inter in 2010 (he managed only one game at Juventus in 2012, although it would admittedly have been difficult to dislodge any of Barzagli, Bonucci or Chiellini from their rock-solid three-man defence) might be taken by some as evidence that his flaws were being hidden by the Portuguese tactician’s uber-defensive unit.
That’s probably true to some degree – and anyone who saw Inter “park the plane” in their Nou Camp semi-final with Pep’s Barca would probably agree – but over the course of a 50 game treble-chasing season a centre-back has to do a lot more than simply sit behind a deep-lying defence. Lucio was pivotal in putting out fires – whether it be route-one crosses into the box or dangerous-looking balls in behind – just has he had been for most of his career.
Brazil 2002 pic.twitter.com/mNesZmjqqv
— The League Magazine (@Theleaguemag) May 17, 2017
On the international stage, Lucio lifted the World Cup in 2002, and is one of only a handful of players to earn a century of caps for Brazil. For a country that is constantly reinventing itself, and with a never-ending production line of talented wonder-kids ready to steal the old guards’ spotlight, that is a feat that should not be sniffed at.