It was only about a month ago when national media really stood up and took notice of just how important Lucas Paqueta had become to this West Ham team. It wasn’t because of a single Paqueta performance that stood out; in fact, he’s been playing at an incredible level all season, but instead, it was something his manager said.
After West Ham’s 3-0 dismantling of Wolves, David Moyes told the media: “He’s a special player. I’ve not had a huge amount of special players with that amount of talent. There’s a bit of leeway we have to give him. As I’ve got a bit older I’ve realised when they have that talent you have to let them flourish. But his work rate as well for the team has been excellent.”
For the first time in 58 years, West Ham have won a major European trophy after beating Fiorentina 2-1 in the UEFA Europa Conference League Final.
Today, we’re shedding light on some of the heroes behind the Hammers’ epic European campaign: pic.twitter.com/1VJBPNw3XF
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) June 7, 2023
Any follower of English football will tell you what a staggering admission this is from Moyes. Not only is Moyes typically incredibly reluctant to downplay his own career, but he is also renowned for his ‘team above any individual’ attitude. The fact that Paqueta’s ability has made Moyes look back at his own 36-year coaching career and reconsider the way he’s always approached the game he knows so well speaks volumes. But how did we get here?
Paqueta joined West Ham back at the start of last season, the 2022/23 campaign. The Brazilian midfielder arrived with a huge expectation having signed for a club-record fee from Lyon and having already played for AC Milan. It wasn’t long however until a few West Ham fans were nervously researching why things hadn’t worked for Paqueta with the Italian giants, the midfielder flattered to deceive in his first few months in East London.
Reflectively, West Ham were a mediocre side at the time, who were trying to find a way of integrating signings from a busy summer window after the success of making it to a Europa League final. There were of course glimpses of what he would bring to the side, but too often it was one lovely piece of skill followed by a careless pass or a brilliant first touch matched with a rushed effort on goal.
By December, though, Paqueta was finding his feet. Having nailed down the number 10 position, despite many calling for him to be used as an 8, he began to understand what Moyes wanted from him and arguably vice versa. A few decent assists and a good individual World Cup away with Brazil assured most that the maverick would eventually come good.
However, Paqueta would save his best form for the end of the season. He was pivotal in the latter stages of West Ham’s Conference Trophy League victory – assisting twice and scoring once in the quarter-final against Gent and unforgettably playing Jarrod Bowen through to score the winner in the final in Prague. Since that day West Ham and Paqueta haven’t looked back. That famous assist in the final seemed to have relaxed him, he started the 2023/24 season like a player who knows the crowd are behind him rather than one still trying to prove his worth.
What surprises many about Paqueta’s playing style is his physique. Despite being blessed with a ridiculously consistent first touch and the type of close control one always expects from any creative Brazilian, he is also extremely strong on the ball. This was never more evident than when West Ham played Arsenal at home in the Carabao Cup. Kai Havertz, who has a similar enough physical stature to Paqueta and a fairly similar languid playing style was playing for Arsenal that day, the gap in the two players’ physical capacity to hold onto the ball when pressured was massive.
Paqueta has also been helped by West Ham’s other summer arrivals. Edson Alvarez has come into the side and taken the role that Tomas Soucek played rather ineffectively last season to allow the now departed Declan Rice to bomb forward. Alvarez’s defensive discipline now allows Soucek to do what he’s best at by getting into the final third at every given opportunity, which has in turn taken the pressure off Paqueta to try and get on the end of crosses, something which does not come naturally to him.
With Michail Antonio out, West Ham are down to one natural center forward: Danny Ings.
Their injury woes could pave the way for 19-year-old Divin Mubama to break into the first team.@Ben_Mattinson_ on why Mubama could be Antonio’s long-term replacement: https://t.co/BZdAqR29bO pic.twitter.com/jfMIKISnbz
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) December 21, 2023
Mohammed Kudus has also been an excellent addition. Paqueta’s three assists in the 3-0 win against Wolves were brilliant passes, but without the quality finishing of Kudus and Bowen, he easily could’ve been left frustrated. Wingers who are consistent finishers are an increasingly rare breed, there is no denying West Ham and Paqueta are lucky to have two.
The future is uncertain for Paqueta. He endeared himself hugely to the West Ham faithful when his move to Manchester City fell through in the summer due to ongoing betting allegations, he remained completely professional, and if anything his performances improved. Now that it seems those allegations may be cleared up, it would be very difficult for the Hammers to hold onto their star if the treble winners were to come knocking again with a bigger fee.
Regardless, West Ham are enjoying another really strong campaign under Moyes, currently sitting 6th in the Premier League despite drawing their last two to Brighton and Sheffield United and through top of their Europa League group. If the form can be kept up whilst Kudus and Nayef Aguerd are at AFCON then perhaps Paqueta won’t be as keen to force a move.
By: Wilf MacDonnell / @WilfMacdonnell
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images