From the mountains overlooking Rio de Janeiro, on a clear day, you can see a small island across Guanabara Bay.
Here, in 1997, Lucas Tolentino Coelho da Lima was born, the man who would become a record signing for West Ham FC, a player best known by his hometown name, the once-magic Ilha de Paquita.
The journey he started to become a professional footballer began with his grandfather Mirao who drove him and his older brother on a ferry to cross the waters between their home and Rio de Janeiro, where Lucas Paqueta enrolled at the Flamengo Academy in Javea and trained Mateus in Ninho, another. Club facilities.
Paquita has a tattoo of a star and letter “M” on his forearm in recognition of his late grandfather’s contribution to making it what it is today; A well-established Brazilian international, clubs in Italy, France and England have spent more than €100m (£84.8m; $100m) in transfer fees ahead of his 25th birthday.
The “Brazil premium” is still a big thing, though imagine what Paqueta would have gone to if he had been born and raised on Canvey Island in Essex and called Luke Canvi. Supposedly it will make Jack Grealish look cheap. But we go on.
In Javea, the boy was impressed by the boat. Paquita grew up on an island without cars, and played uninterruptedly for hours on the streets and on the beach. He was feeling a rare touch to the game.
One of our youth coaches, Zee Ricardo, was amazed by Paqueta’s world-class skill set. It was like every midfielder merged into one. “It could evolve into No. 5, 6, 7, 8, No. 10,” Ze Ricciardo told France Football. “He was very smart. He knew how to position himself and was fearless.”
But at 15, Paquita was undersized for his age. The growth spurt of his peers didn’t arrive and suddenly the Flamengo youth sector star couldn’t join the team anymore.
Paquita didn’t take it well. He cried and was irritable. Maybe this is it? All those nights catching the last ferry, a 21-mile round trip with Mirao. All for what? To get back to being a tour guide on the island, did Paquita do a job he did for some extra pocket money in his spare time?
His mother will not stand with that. I went down to the academy and made a fuss.
Flamingo approached her from her point of view and devised a custom plan for Paquita. Targeted nutrition, a little bit of strength and fitness exercise had the desired effect, and it rose, almost gained height. It was all worth it. Paqueta ran the show when Flamengo’s Under-17s won their Coppinha and when the club’s first-team coach Maurice Ramalho asked the academy chiefs if they had anyone, a teenager popped up.
Shortly after making his debut in the Rio State Championships, Paqueta scored his first goal in the professional match. It wasn’t an ordinary target either.
tricks In tight spaces and his talent for making an impression on the big occasions – Paqueta scored in the 2017 Copa Brasil and Copa Sudamericana finals – then quickly made him a darling of Flamengo fans.
Among them was one of their former players, Leonardo, who returned to Milan as the club’s sporting director. After hanging up his shoes, he cut his teeth while hiring under the supervision of former CEO Adriano Galliani.
As the only Brazilian in Milan’s old offices on Via Turati, he has been widely credited with signings with Thiago Silva and Alexandre Pato. One of Leonardo’s first moves upon returning to the club after leaving Paris Saint-Germain and trying to coach him again with Antalyaspor was to try to sign the next big thing outside of Brazil.
A €35 million deal with Flamengo was struck in the fall of 2018, and Paqueta joined the following January. There were echoes of Batu’s arrival just over a decade ago and the nostalgia was intense. Leonardo had accompanied Kaka to Paris for the Ballon d’Or in 2007, and when he left, he noted that he would be returning with Pato. Injuries eventually prevented him from realizing his potential but the talent was evident.
Memories of Pato’s early days, combined with the illustrious association between Brazil and the last great Milan teams, carried enormous expectations on Paqueta’s shoulders. The rainbow flick he made on his Serie A debut against Genoa only added to it. Did Leonardo just go and find the new Kaka?
Fans at the San Siro were certainly hopeful. After all, it wasn’t in 2003, when Kaka joined the Champions League winning team and people wondered if this ready-made-looking kid from Sao Paulo would get a match amid competition from Manuel Rui Costa and Rivaldo. In 2019, Milan needed a saviour.
The club has not been in the Champions League for five years and would have gone to the wall had Elliot Management not retrieved it from Lee Yonghong. The hope Paqueta had was that he could make Milan an elite almost all by himself.
It was much too early.
Baketa’s adaptation was not easy. While in the past there was a handful 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 in Milan these days is French, not Portuguese, and when Leonardo left six months after signing with Paqueta, his protection felt isolated.
Paqueta was only there for a year, but the club went through three coaches. When he joined in the middle of the season, Renault Gattuso had already settled on his best team and could not find a place for him. Marco Giampaolo told Paqueta to be “less Brazilian, more solid, and less attractive”. By the time Stefano Pioli got the job, travel was difficult to reverse and the midfielder who benefited the most from his appointment was Hakan Calhanoglu. Paquita, in Beuli’s mind, needed to be “more consistent”.
Internally, Milan was of the opinion that they pushed Flamengo more than Paqueta had at the time. €21m were willing to pay for it in the late summer of 2020, so it was seen as a miracle, and the 15 per cent sale at Milan that was cleverly negotiated means they would get their money back and make a surprising profit before the final. week of the transfer period.
No regrets, though, as the Leon would cost them nearly three times as much as a Paquita. He thrived in the French league.
“I put myself under a lot of pressure at Milan,” Paqueta said at L’Equipe. “Too much. When I moved to France, I told myself I didn’t have to put myself through it again. I just had to do my best.
“Sometimes there is no reason to fail. My time at Milan was by no means extraordinary, I may have achieved less than expected, but it served me well and made me a better player. A different and stronger player who rediscovered the essence of what he was like at Flamengo. The pressure is no It still exists but it no longer comes from myself.”
In Lyon, Paqueta has found another great club, not one of the same scale as Milan. The environment was less demanding than San Siro and the league was tactically less demanding than Serie A.
Behind the move was another legend of the Brazilian game, free-kick maestro Juninho Pernambucano, who was lured back to Lyon as the club’s sporting director to build a squad that mixed the best products of Europe’s finest academy with the technical refinement of his home. The nation, namely Paquita, Bruno Guimarães and Thiago Mendes. The team that reached the semi-finals of the Champions League 2020 under Rudi Garcia, and beat Juventus and Manchester City along the way, evolved from an aggressive 3-5-2-based team to a 4-3-3 that sought to dominate. An elegant game of possession made possible by Brazilian quintet Houssam Aouar and Maxence Cakeret.
He promised much in the 1-0 win away to Mauricio Pochettino’s Paris Saint-Germain before Christmas showed his elegant, pressure-resistant side in the Paqueta match as he helped Lyon relieve the pressure around the penalty area and take to the field. Paqueta provided glimpses of a complete midfielder, whose ability to disrupt opponents as they advance toward Lyon’s goal, combined aesthetic with aggressiveness.
On the ball, as he shows in his clever profile, he often kept his passes short and sharp, with neat alternations (link playing size 86 of 99) rather than looking for long balls on the field (progressive passing 27 of 99). These actions appear to maintain possession at an above average rate compared to the other attacking midfielders (ball-holding ability 59 out of 99).
Off the ball, Paqueta’s ability to disable opponents with a large volume of defensive actions such as tackles and shocks (disrupting opponents’ movements 98 out of 99) was also very effective in preventing opponents from advancing towards Lyon’s goal (Defensive effect 73 out of 99).
Halfway through his first Ligue 1 campaign, L’Equipe has named him to the Team of the Season so far. Once the controversy over Tite’s premature handing of Brazil’s No. 10 shirt to Lucas Paqueta in a friendly against Argentina in 2019 subsided – a decision taken by Rivaldo as disrespectful to Rivelino, Zico and Ronaldinho – he established himself as a key player. Its versatility means it could potentially start in the World Cup.
“He has the talent to be one of the best players,” said Emerson Palmieri. the athlete 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 is still young and I think we have to be patient with him because sometimes young people have their ups and downs.”
The wobbly performances that Palmieri touches indicate Leon’s perception of Paqueta as an absolute joy to watch his day. But it lacks consistency. Garcia felt he needed to show more of a killing instinct in his passes rather than playing simple, short and sideways.
The team also went way back in Paqueta’s time, slipping from the Champions League semi-finals to having no Champions League football at all in successive years. Last season under Peter Boss was the worst the club had seen in a quarter of a century. Either the team performed poorly or it wasn’t as good as people think. Guimaraes was sold to Newcastle in January to make up for some of the lost profits from the Champions League loss and Lyon returned to players they can count on such as Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso. More content, less style.
Paqueta was ready for a new challenge, but lackluster performances during the second half of last season made Lyon ready to move on. Romain Fever could replace him between the lines and Jeff Reign’s Adelaide return from injury covers Lyon in midfield.
The €60m fee from West Ham is frankly too good to turn down and would make Paqueta the club’s most profitable sale after Tanguy Ndombele. West Ham fans are hoping they can get more bang for the buck than Tottenham did with his 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 Paquita. “He is a loyal man, someone who is obsessed with winning matches and competing for titles. He has everything he needs to develop further. I think he has a brilliant future ahead of him.”
Additional contributor: Jack Lang
(Top photo: Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images)