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Alan 1:32 Thu Aug 25
Lucas Paqueta SIGNED

The Athletic

Lucas Paqueta: Lost in Milan, reborn at Lyon – and now West Ham’s statement signing

By James Horncastle

From the mountains overlooking Rio de Janeiro you can, on a clear day, see a small island across the Guanabara Bay.

It was here, in 1997, that the man set to become West Ham’s club-record signing, Lucas Tolentino Coelho da Lima, was born, a player better known by the name of his birthplace, the once-glamorous Ilha de Paqueta.

The journey he embarked on to become a professional footballer began with his grandfather Mirao ushering him and his older brother onto a ferry to cross the water between their home and Rio de Janeiro, where Lucas Paqueta attended Flamengo’s Gavea academy and Matheus trained at Ninho, another of the club’s facilities.

Paqueta has a tattoo on his forearm of a star and the letter “M” in recognition of the contribution his late grandfather made in making him who he is today; an established Brazil international upon whom clubs in Italy, France and England have lavished more than €100million (£84.8m; $100m) in transfer fees before his 25th birthday.

The “Brazil premium” is still very much a thing, although just imagine what Paqueta would go for had he been born and raised on Canvey Island in Essex and called Luke Canvey. Presumably, he’d make Jack Grealish look cheap. But we digress.

At Gavea, the boy off the boat impressed. Growing up on an island with no cars, Paqueta played uninterrupted for hours in the streets and on the beach. He had a rare touch and feel for the game.

One of his youth coaches Ze Ricardo marvelled at Paqueta’s universal skill set. He was like every midfielder rolled into one. “He could develop into a No 5, 6, 7, 8, a No 10,” Ze Ricardo told France Football. “He was very intelligent. He knew how to position himself and was fearless.”

But at 15, Paqueta was under-sized for his age. The growth spurt his peers experienced didn’t arrive and all of a sudden the star of Flamengo’s youth sector couldn’t get into the team anymore.

Paqueta didn’t take it very well. He cried and was irritable. Maybe this was it? All those nights catching the last ferry, the 21-mile roundtrip with Mirao. All for what? To go back to being a tour guide on the island, a job Paqueta did for some extra pocket money in his spare time?

His mother wouldn’t stand for it. She went down to the academy and kicked up a fuss.

Flamengo came round to her point of view and drew up a bespoke plan for Paqueta. Targeted nutrition, a bit of power training and fitness work had the desired effect and he shot up, gaining about a foot in height. It was all worth it. Paqueta ran the show as Flamengo’s under-17s won the Copinha and when the club’s first-team coach Muricy Ramalho asked the academy chiefs if they had anyone for him, one teenager stood out.

Not long after making his debut in the Rio state championship, Paqueta scored his first goal in the professional game. It was no ordinary goal either.

Tricks in tight spaces and his knack for making a mark on big occasions — Paqueta scored in the 2017 Copa do Brasil and Copa Sudamericana finals — then quickly made him the darling of Flamengo fans.

Among them was one of their former players, Leonardo, who was back at AC Milan as the club’s sporting director. After hanging up his boots, he had cut his teeth in recruitment working under former chief executive Adriano Galliani.

As the only Brazilian in Milan’s old offices on Via Turati, the signings of Thiago Silva and Alexandre Pato were widely credited to him. One of Leonardo’s first moves upon returning to the club after leaving Paris Saint-Germain and trying his hand at coaching again with Antalyaspor was to attempt to sign the next big thing out of Brazil.

A deal worth €35million was struck with Flamengo in the autumn of 2018 and Paqueta joined the following January. There were echoes of Pato’s arrival a little over a decade earlier and the nostalgia hit hard. Leonardo had accompanied Kaka to Paris to collect his Ballon d’Or in 2007 and, as he left, famously remarked he’d be back with Pato. Injuries ultimately stopped him from fulfilling his potential but the talent was obvious.

Memories of the early Pato, along with the illustrious association between Brazil and the last great Milan sides, loaded tremendous expectation on Paqueta’s shoulders. The rainbow flick he performed on his Serie A debut against Genoa only added to it. Had Leonardo only gone and found the new Kaka?

Fans at San Siro certainly hoped so. After all, this wasn’t 2003, when Kaka joined a Champions League-winning team and people wondered whether this preppy-looking kid from Sao Paulo would get a game amid competition from Manuel Rui Costa and Rivaldo. In 2019, Milan needed a saviour.

The club hadn’t been in the Champions League for five years and would have gone to the wall had Elliott Management not repossessed it from Li Yonghong. The hope projected on Paqueta was that he might almost single-handedly make Milan elite again.

Paqueta’s adaptation wasn’t easy. Whereas in the past there would have been a group of players like Dida, Serginho, Cafu, Thiago Silva, Pato and Kaka to help him settle in, by the time Paqueta arrived at Milanello there were no Brazilians left at the club. The second language at Milan these days is French, not Portuguese, and when Leonardo left six months after signing Paqueta, his protege felt isolated.

Paqueta was only there a year, but the club went through three coaches. When he joined midway through the season, Rino Gattuso had already settled on his best team and couldn’t find a spot for him. Marco Giampaolo told Paqueta to be “less Brazilian and more concrete, less showy”. By the time Stefano Pioli got the job, the direction of travel was hard to reverse and the midfield player who benefited most from his appointment turned out to be Hakan Calhanoglu. Paqueta, in Pioli’s mind, needed to be “more incisive”.

Internally, Milan were of the opinion they had overpaid Flamengo for what Paqueta was at the time. The €21million Lyon were prepared to pay for him in the late summer of 2020 was therefore considered something of a miracle and the 15 per cent sell-on Milan cleverly negotiated means they will get their money back and have a nice windfall ahead of the final week of the transfer window.

There are no regrets, even though Lyon will make close to three times what Paqueta cost them. He has flourished in Ligue 1.

“I put myself under a lot of pressure in Milan,” Paqueta reflected in L’Equipe. “Too much even. When I moved to France I told myself I didn’t have to put myself through that again. I just had to do my best.

“Sometimes there isn’t a reason for failure. My time at Milan wasn’t extraordinary by any means, I probably achieved less than expected, but it served me well and made me a better player; a different, stronger player who rediscovered the essence of what he was at Flamengo. The pressure is still there but it doesn’t come from myself anymore.”

In Lyon, Paqueta found another big club, just not one on the same scale as Milan. The environment was less demanding than San Siro and the league less tactically strait-jacketed than Serie A.

Behind the transfer was another legend of the Brazilian game, the free-kick maestro Juninho Pernambucano, who had been enticed back to Lyon as the club’s sporting director to build a team mixing the best products of Europe’s finest academy with the technical refinement of his home nation, namely Paqueta, Bruno Guimaraes and Thiago Mendes. The team that reached the semi-finals of the 2020 Champions League under Rudi Garcia, upsetting Juventus and Manchester City along the way, evolved from an aggressive, transition-based 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3 which sought control through a neat possession game made possible thanks to the quintet of Brazilians, Houssem Aouar and Maxence Caqueret.

It promised a lot and a 1-0 win away to Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG before Christmas showcased the elegant press-resistant side to Paqueta’s game as he helped Lyon relieve the pressure around their penalty area and get up the pitch. Paqueta offered glimpses of a complete midfielder, whose ability to disrupt opponents as they progressed towards Lyon’s goal married the aesthetic with the aggressive.

On the ball, as his smarterscout profile below shows, he often kept his passing short and sharp, with neat interchange (link-up play volume 86 out of 99) rather than longer, searching balls upfield (progressive passing 27 out of 99). Those actions seemingly kept possession at an above-average rate compared with other central attacking midfielders (ball retention ability 59 out of 99).

Off the ball, Paqueta’s ability to disrupt opponents with his high volume of defensive actions such as tackles and blocks (disrupting opposition moves 98 out of 99) was also highly effective in preventing opponents from progressing towards Lyon’s goal (defending impact 73 out of 99).

Halfway through his first campaign in Ligue 1, L’Equipe named him in their team of the season so far. Once the polemic subsided about Tite prematurely handing Lucas Paqueta the Brazil No 10 shirt for a friendly against Argentina in 2019 — a decision Rivaldo took as a lack of respect for Rivelino, Zico and Ronaldinho — he established himself as a regular. His versatility means he will probably start at the World Cup.

“He has the talent to be one of the top players,” Emerson Palmieri told The Athletic earlier this summer. The Euro 2020 winner spent last season on loan at Lyon and will be reunited with Paqueta after joining West Ham from Chelsea. “He’s still young and I believe we have to have patience with him because sometimes youngsters have ups and downs.”

The oscillating performances Palmieri touches upon refers to the Lyonnais perception of Paqueta as an absolute joy to watch on his day. But he lacks consistency. Garcia felt he needed to show more killer instinct in his passing rather than playing simple, short and sideways.

The team also went backwards in Paqueta’s time, declining from Champions League semi-finalists to no Champions League football at all in back-to-back years. Last season under Peter Bosz was the worst the club has experienced in a quarter of a century. Either the team underperformed or wasn’t as good as people thought. Guimaraes was sold to Newcastle in January to offset some of the lost earnings from missing out on the Champions League and Lyon have gone back to players they can rely on like Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso. More substance, less style.

Paqueta was ready for a new challenge but the lacklustre showings he put in over the second half of the last campaign also made Lyon open to moving on. Romain Faivre can replace him between the lines and Jeff Reine Adelaide’s return from injury covers Lyon in midfield.

A fee of up to €60million from West Ham is frankly too good to turn down and would make Paqueta the club’s most lucrative sale after Tanguy Ndombele. West Ham fans will be hoping they get more bang for their buck than Tottenham did for their record signing who returned to Lyon on loan last season and is now at Napoli.

“His quality is there for all to see,” Palmieri said of Paqueta. “He’s a dedicated guy, someone who is obsessed with winning games and competing for titles. He has everything he needs to develop further. I think he has a brilliant future ahead of him.”

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

paulon 6:06 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Pentonville 1:54 Sun Mar 5

Leonard Hatred 5:43 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Fuck off Keep Dreaming you disgusting pervert

Keep dreaming 4:46 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Not slagging him off, brilliant player, but as Sajmo says, it's pointless in a Moyes team.
What players have grown under Moyes after all?

Pentonville 1:54 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Anyone slagging him off is grasping at straws..watch what tune a new manager gets out of him or if he goes to another club.

There is only one man to blame here. MOYES has one way of playing and can't adapt despite whoever it was buying for the past 2 years trying to change his method of thinking.
Moyes wants 11 Fellainis or Souceks and that's it. It's embarrassing to watch how many players Moyes has fucked over or destroyed as a player amd then read people blaming the player.
Watch Rooney interview about moyes. He lays all success at Duncan fergusons door for his career and says his career is in SPITE OF MOYES not becuase of it.

Sajmo1 1:54 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Player who trives in the possession based system struggles in a hoof ball system. An absolute shock!

Nick QQQ 1:43 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Fuck knows how you can pick out a single player at the moment. They are all playing way below par. One reason for that.

Side of Ham 1:40 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
I cannot judge any Brazilian player who is not a defender and expected to play in a timid set up seeing very little of the ball.

He’s being coached to be a bottle job under Moyes

Iron Duke 12:19 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
He isn’t a bad player, but he’s worth about half of what we paid for him. He doesn’t really offer much. He doesn’t score much. He doesn’t create much. He’s not an enforcer. His passing stats are nothing special.

It doesn’t help the way we are set up. Even Rice is looking pretty ordinary for us this season. Even so, he stands out in a shit team. Paqueta doesn’t.

Our whole club set up with Moyes, Newman, Sullivan and now Noble is baffling. There is no plan. There’s no strategy. There’s no cohesion.

nychammer 11:52 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
This is also the problem, I'm pretty sure Sullivan uses this club as some real life Fantasy Football game. Paqueta was a typical Moyes signing? Come the fuck on!

Come On You Irons 11:48 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
I'm glad a few others are awake to how much of a fraud this clown is.

Cowering out of tackles, dispossessed multiple times during matches, giving the ball away numerous times trying Hollywood balls etc.

The fella is a samba dancing, fancy pants, bottle job joke, and it is embarrassing the club wasted £50 million on him.

onsideman 10:23 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
I'm simply not having him. Hopeless.

He'll do something good in one game in 5 and the MotD pundits will highlight it and we're all supposed to be grateful to have him. Bloke's a fraud

Manuel 4:06 Sun Mar 5
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
He plays like a girl, maybe he is a girl?

Woeful cunt.

dealcanvey 10:55 Sat Mar 4
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
That piece of defending in the first ten minutes.

Turned his back on the player and stuck his left leg out backwards. Even the commentators asked wtf he was doing.

Sums up his time here. Good against Forest but mostly weak and underwhelming performances.

That’s what 50 million quid buys West Ham.

2 million buys Brighton a player like Mitoma.

Stowie.40 9:16 Sat Mar 4
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Absolute wank, sorry but he is never a 50m player in a million years. Just coasts through games and has zilch fight in him. The manager don’t help but for the wedge paid he doesn’t effect games enough.

twoleftfeet 8:43 Sat Mar 4
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED

Is your life bereft of joy?

Paqueta could score in 10 consecutive games and you’d say nothing.

Fails to score in his 11th and you’d pop up and say “ I told you he was shit “

You are a miserable little cunt.

Come On You Irons 7:35 Sat Mar 4
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Back to his usual form today. Absolute DUD signing.

Hammer and Pickle 1:00 Wed Mar 1
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Would be highly aggravating to see him go to Arsenal. Let’s not speak of it ever again!

Northern Sold 12:50 Wed Mar 1
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Got a touch of the Bish's about him... always looking for the ball... and pretty brave on it... always trying stuff... yes does not always come off but I'd rather someone that's brave on the ball that goes missing... really enjoyed his performance at the weekend

Crassus 12:25 Wed Mar 1
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED

If you follow reports, you may get your wish - The Arse were being linked yesterday for a summer move

Hammer and Pickle 2:42 Tue Feb 28
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED

The management of his injury is an interesting one. Was talking to the orthopaedic doctor working with Cracovia players about him and she said that if it was an actual dislocation, she would have expected him to be out of training for a minimum of four months following an operation. So, let's hope we are seeing as much of him on the pitch as possible while the risk of aggravating that shoulder is kept to a minimum.

Russ of the BML 1:56 Tue Feb 28
Re: Lucas Paqueta SIGNED
Hammer and Pickle 9:20 Mon Feb 27

That's actually not a bad shout. You can see our team improvement has come with his improvement. Moyes must see the same.

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