FEATURE | Lucas Paquetá: The Dancer and The Warrior

“I love to dance, I’ve always loved it,” Lucas Paquetá told L’Équipe. “My celebration is my trademark, I’ve always done that – it’s a funk step. I love funk.” The Brazilian sees himself as both a dancer and a warrior – it’s an apt description of a player who bewitches and riles the opposition in equal measure. “I was trained at Flamengo, where you have to show great desire on the pitch,” the 24-year-old midfielder continued. “I’ve always been someone who liked to win all the time. I’ve always had that warrior willpower inside me. It can’t be taught.”

Dubbed ‘Craqueta’ by Lyon fans, Paquetá’s dogged, slippery, all-action style made him the team’s creator-in-chief, low-key enforcer and passionate heartbeat under both Peter Bosz and Rudi Garcia in Ligue 1. Such was the Brazilian’s 20/21 form for Garcia, over long periods he was the front runner to be named player of the season in France before Lille eventually won the Ligue 1 title.

The Brazilian was been used across the OL attack and his ability to adapt proved key. Seen nominally as a number ten, where the majority of his longer-term future likely lies, some of the Brazilian’s best football came deeper in central midfield during the 20/21 campaign where his precise passing, underrated physicality and tight control made him difficult to dispossess and allowed him to orchestrate play, much as he done in Qatar.

Surprisingly broad, Paquetá adjusted well to a false-nine role too, where he played a handful of games last season amid an injury crisis. Despite protesting to then-coach Bosz, who agreed to change tact, and minimal goal contributions in that spell, the Brazilian held up play aggressively and proved a useful focal point, working hard to link with midfield runners such as Houssem Aouar, who enjoyed the extra freedom created by Paquetá.

That tenacity is underlined by the fact that the midfielder conceded the second most fouls in Ligue 1 last season, as Bosz’s side attempted to press high, leading to the OL man to make France’s third-most pressures while winning the sixth most tackles too. When asked about his best position by L’Équipe last year, Paquetá explained: “The best position is on the field… I feel good in all positions in the middle of the pitch.”

There’s something classical about Paquetá’s upright, shoulders-back, angular style, which gives him the appearance of a midfielder from the now distant past. Although blessed with velvety skill, it’s unusual to see him lower his centre of gravity and drop a shoulder to skip past defenders like Brazil teammate Neymar. However, the wily midfielder was still the sixth most fouled player in Ligue 1 last season and made the top eight for number of players dribbled past too. Instead, he prefers to outmanoeuvre and turn away from his opponents using his slight of foot. Comparisons with Kaka are well-earned.

Paquetá breeds danger in a variety of ways. A genuine goal threat, he managed the sixth-most shots in France last season while his finishing is calm and precise. His assist tally underwhelms, but his astute use of the ball and deft passing is often best used a little deeper to provide the pass before the assist or by starting moves from a withdrawn position – Paquetá placed ninth for through balls across Europe’s top five leagues last season according to FBRef.

There’s an intensity to his play that drags his team forward, it can feel like the Brazilian wants to win possession in midfield, pick a defence-splitting pass and rifle home the finish all by himself. Sometimes, over the course of a game, he does just that. “The Paquetá style is a mixture of fighting to recover the ball and playing with joy,” he said.

However, the 24-year-old’s attitude has been questioned after complaining to Bosz over being moved around the team and wrestling the ball away from designated penalty taker Houssem Aouar when 4-0 down at Rennes last November. As a child, the player’s mother often said he needed to show more grace when losing. Nevertheless, Paquetá’s hunger to apply himself is undoubted, often insisting on playing for Lyon immediately after an international break regardless of a tiring overnight flight from South America and having little to no training.

Having failed to develop as hoped at AC Milan, both the warrior and the dancer resurfaced at Lyon, leading to a switch to West Ham. Paquetá has admitted, however, the sideways move to France was a necessary step in his career: “At Milan, I put a lot of pressure on myself, too much,” he explained. “So, when I arrived here in Lyon, I told myself that I wouldn’t put up with it any more.” After a much-hyped €40m move to Italy from Flamengo in January 2019 as a 21-year-old, it became clear Paquetá wasn’t ready for such change. Three years of funk step later, Paquetá’s time has finally arrived.


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