Paqueta is a tiny island in Rio de Janeiro’s bay. It is so quaint that there are no cars on the island — but one of its products has a career that is now moving at jet pace.
Lucas Tolentino Coelho de Lima is known as Lucas Paqueta, in honour of his birthplace. As recently as April of last year he was rarely even winning a place on the substitutes bench with Rio de Janeiro giant Flamengo. Soon afterwards, when the club was negotiating with Valencia for the services of goalkeeper Diego Alves, he was offered as a makeweight, on a loan deal with an option for the Spanish club to pay him if they wanted — at a price that was a fraction of the reported fee of over €35 million that AC Milan are currently negotiating.
The talk in Milan is of a new Kaka, for understandable reasons. Though Paqueta is left footed, and may not possess quite the same surge in possession that was so characteristic of Kaka’s game, there are similarities. Just like Kaka, Paqueta is tall, elegant and talented. And, at 21 years, he has already forced his way into the Brazil squad, and made his international debut last month — indeed, he was placed on standby for the World Cup in Russia.
But there is also a significant difference. Kaka was a similar age when he made the move across the Atlantic. But he was much further down the line in his career. He had spent two-and-a-half years in the Sao Paulo first team, long enough to establish himself as one of the leaders, and also to construct a solid idea of his identity as a player.
Paqueta, meanwhile, has yet to complete 100 games for Flamengo, and has played them in an ever changing environment. In little over a year and a half he has had six different coaches. He owes plenty to the second of them, the Colombian Reinaldo Rueda, who was quick to spot his potential and give him consistent first team opportunities. He was first used at centre forward, filling a hole left when the Peruvian Paolo Guerrero was on international duty, and later when he was absent as a result of a doping ban. Paqueta was then played wide on the right, and has also featured on the opposite flank. Then there was an attempt to play him deeper, as an all-around midfielder, both as one of a central trio, and in a pair in a 4-2-3-1. The recently appointed Dorival Junior has pushed him higher, in contact with the centre forward, and this may turn out to be his best position, where he can use his shooting ability, power in the air and restricted space skills to best effect.
All of this has happened very quickly, and it shows. His decision making is still crude — in his deeper role he was at times a threat to his own defence, by trying some extravagantly dangerous move and losing possession close to goal. The rapid transition from unknown to big club idol brings its own problems. There have been times when Paqueta is losing control, picking up too many cards and even in danger of going down with a case of early David Beckham-style narcissism. But he clearly wants to develop.
Under contract with Flamengo until the end of 2020, it appears that the big push for a move abroad has come from him. This is something of a worry for the Brazilian game. It now seems that neither the big European clubs nor the local players believe that there is much value in staying in Brazil. The example to be avoided is that of Luan of Gremio, chosen as South America’s outstanding player last year, when his club won the Copa Libertadores. But at the age of 25, Luan would appear to be seen as past the ideal age for a move across the Atlantic.
The European clubs clearly hold the belief that the best course of action is to get their hands on a player as soon as possible in order to ease his adaptation to the top level game. And so Lucas from Paqueta, the island without cars, is ready to take the fast track.