The year 2006 saw Lucas break new ground. He inspired Gremio to 2007 Copa Libertadores qualification on their return to the Brazilian top flight, became the youngest ever recipient of Placar Magazine's Golden Ball, awarded to the domestic championship's top performer, and earned a first call-up to the senior Brazil squad.
Surpassing such a profitable 12 months was always going to be an arduous task for the all-action midfielder, however, having already skippered his country to glory at the 2007 South American U-20 Championship and helped his club make a positive start to the new season, he believes this goal is within his reach. That said, Lucas is aware that his mission rests abundantly on one factor: whether or not he can lead the Seleção to gold at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 , which begins on 30 June.
A city of revelations
Just like their cross-city rivals Internacional, whose post-millennium revelations include attacking jewels Diogo Rincon, Daniel Carvalho, Nilmar, Rafael Sobis and Alexandre Pato, Gremio have gained a reputation for unearthing fine prospects in recent times.
Indeed, both two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldinho and FC Porto luminary Anderson are products of their youth academy. But while the pair share a similar style, which serves to thrill audiences and unlock defences, Lucas provides a different service.
Predominantly a defensive midfielder, the 20-year-old is an expert marker and ball-winner. His capabilities, nonetheless, stretch beyond breaking up opposition attacks. An inventive passer who possesses a neat first touch, well-rounded is an adjective that fits Lucas like a glove. *Mature leadership * After helping Gremio win the Rio Grande do Sul state championship at the front end of the year, Lucas Pezzini Leiva, to give him his full name, played the transcendent role in the Tricolor Gaúcho achieving an unexpected third-placed finish in the 2006 Brasileiro. And as the team celebrated securing Copa Libertadores qualification, their star turn was rewarded with Placar's prestigious Golden Ball, an honour that has previously befitted the likes of Zico, Falcao, Careca, Junior, Romario and Kaka.
In spite of Lucas' accomplishment, however, it was another Porto Alegre-based youngster that captured the majority of the headlines going into the 2007 South American U-20 Championship. And while Alexandre Pato certainly vindicated his pre-tournament hype, Lucas' influence proved equally important to Brazil. In addition to his proficient orchestration of play and mature leadership, the Gremio player weighed in with four goals, including the equaliser in a 2-2 draw against Argentina and the opening goal in the title-clinching 2-0 win over Colombia.
With Argentina looking to defend their crown, a highly-touted Mexico side eager to etch their own name on the trophy, Congo having suggested that they are capable of mixing it with the elite and European heavyweights Spain and Portugal among the qualified nations, the 16th instalment of the FIFA U-20 World Cup promises to be the most competitive to date. Following their capture of the continental title in Paraguay, though, Brazil will enter the tournament confident of matching Argentina's record of five titles.
For Lucas, nephew of Palmeiras legend Leivinha, leading Nelson Rodrigues' side to a global triumph would be a huge step towards turning 2007 into an even more successful 12 months than his breakthrough year. Moreover, with full national team boss Dunga sure to be casting a keen eye over proceedings in Canada, it would improve his chances of becoming a firm fixture in the senior Brazil squad.
Ironically, when the Seleção won their first FIFA U-20 World Cup title at Mexico 83, Dunga performed handsomely in their engine room. Is the stage set for a new midfield general to spearhead Brazil's trophy charge?