If not for his bouncebackability, Lucas Paquetá would not be the player he is today: a senior member of the Brazilian national team and the flashiest signing in West Ham’s history. The 25-year-old arrives in East London following a £36.5 million transfer from Olympique Lyonnais, which could rise to just under £50 million if he triggers performance clauses included in the deal.
Paquetá, who inked a five-year deal at the London Stadium, has been through more than most en route to West Ham. He starred in Flamengo’s Gavea academy until his mid-teens, dazzling his coaches with a rare combination of showmanship and wisdom.
However, the 1997-born midfielder could only outrun his lack of physicality for so long. Paquetá was an undersized 16-year-old and fell behind his peers in Flamengo’s youth ranks as a result. Naturally, he bounced back by leading the club’s under-17s to the São Paolo state championship and adding almost a foot to his frame.
By the time Paquetá’s senior debut in red and black arrived, concerns regarding his size had vanished. Instead, his intricate ball control and eye for the spectacular dominated the discussion and transformed him into a favourite of Flamengo’s fanatical fans.
He also attracted plenty of attention from Europe’s big five leagues, setting the wheels in motion for a €35 million (£29 million) transfer to AC Milan in January 2019. But it did not work out for Paquetá with the Rossoneri. Still in his early 20s, the Brazilian ran into astronomical expectations in Milan and was billed as the player who would restore the club’s elite status.
Despite only spending one season in Italy, the Rio de Janeiro-born midfielder played under three head coaches at the San Siro and failed to establish himself as a first-team regular, precipitating his transfer to Ligue 1.
“I put myself under a lot of pressure in Milan,” Paquetá told L’Equipe after his €21 million transfer to Lyon. “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.”
Paquetá flourished in Lyon, combining with Bruno Guimarães and Houssem Aouar to lead Les Gones to the final four of the 2019-20 Champions League with wins over Juventus and Manchester City. He also nailed down a place in the Seleção and started to deliver on his all-action potential.
But his rebound in France was never destined to last. Paquetá suffered after Guimarães was sold to Newcastle United at the turn of the year, with his flaky form leading club and player to determine that divorce was for the best.
Again, there were no hard feelings about the Brazilian’s exit. Lyon turned a healthy profit on their investment, while Paquetá transfers back into continental competition with West Ham. There is a chance this deal will be viewed as a win-win-win on Wednesday 7 June, when the Europa Conference League is awarded in Prague.
Where Will Lucas Paquetá Feature For West Ham?
Paquetá is a left-footed, offensively minded midfielder who is comfortable in numerous roles and positions. He has amassed 19,915 minutes of professional experience, mainly in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. While the one-time Copa América champion is competent as a forward or in the wide areas, he is at his best when deployed behind the striker or as a right central midfielder.
Although the Hammers experimented with a five-player defence in their recent win over Aston Villa, David Moyes is expected to return to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation with Paquetá replacing Tomáš Souček as Declan Rice’s primary pivot partner.
If utilised correctly, the 25-year-old will extend West Ham’s window of continental success and burnish his credentials as one of the top midfielders in world football. Yes, he is that talented.
What Are Lucas Paquetá’s Best Attributes?
Paquetá is a high event midfielder who excels at multiple tasks. The Brazilian always makes himself while his team is in possession, acting as a pressure valve when deployed as part of a double pivot.
It is therefore easy to see why scouts at West Ham fell in love with him, not least because he significantly improves the team’s press resistance. He is a confident ball-player in all areas of the field but is especially effective at circulating possession and circumventing the press.
While the six-foot connector is also an asset in the final third, he carries the most threat during the offensive transition, finding teammates with perfectly weighted through balls.
Paquetá produced offence at an impressive rate in 2021-22, contributing 13 goals and seven assists through 4,305 minutes of play for club and country. Furthermore, his impact in possession stands out in advanced statistics provided by Wyscout. He completed 81.5 percent of his 46.22 passes per 90 last season, including the lion’s share of his distributions into the final third.
In a 3-0 win over Sparta Praha last November, Paquetá demonstrated his ability to make high-end plays at the drop of a hat, directing a backheeled through ball into Karl Toko Ekambi’s path without feeling the need to take an extra touch:
He used every ounce of his spatial awareness in a 2-0 win over AS Monaco a month earlier, threading a delicate pass into the penalty area to force the concession of a penalty kick.
Although the Brazilian is expected to occupy a deeper role with West Ham, his composure when receiving the ball under pressure bodes well for the Hammers.
Paquetá is also capable of making an impact off the dribble and completed 55.3 percent of his 4.72 attempts per 90 last season. He bamboozled Nantes in the final match of 2021-22, turning on the head of a pin in central midfield before creating a high-danger scoring chance with an accurate pass into the final third:
Also of note: the former AC Milan midfielder knows where the net is. He is a confident finisher, unafraid of stroking the ball into the bottom corner – as exemplified by his match-winner versus FC Porto in March:
Paquetá’s all-action style is evident in his defensive exploits, too. The 33-cap Brazil international defends more aggressively than most players of his mould, especially when instructed to mark opponents in the wide areas.
In his 2,159 minutes as a central midfielder in 2021-22, Paquetá made 65 interceptions and won 59.4 percent of his 197 defensive duels. He also notched a remarkable 140 ball recoveries, including 68 in the attacking half. He promises to be an excellent partner for Declan Rice in midfield.
How Can Lucas Paquetá Improve Further?
While the Brazilian ticks plenty of boxes, he – like every player in the history of the sport – is not perfect. Paquetá is reluctant to run beyond the defensive when deployed as a No. 10, making his final third movement somewhat predictable.
This feature of the 25-year-old’s style is reinforced by his desire to receive passes into his feet, which can cause him to become isolated if he is marked tightly. He is also ineffective in aerial duels, winning only 39.8 percent of his contests last season.
However, the Hammers do not have a shortage of players willing to attack lofted balls, with Paquetá unlikely to be the target of crosses into the box or asked to play a major role in defending set-pieces.
In Lyon, Rudi Garcia accused the Brazilian of lacking killing instinct due to his preference for playing short, simple passes. However, there is something to be said about Paquetá’s disciplined restraint and ability to make safe decisions in possession, especially as he provided more than nine expected assists in his final season in France.
In fact, the one-time Campeonato Carioca champion’s worst feature is his inconsistency.
“He has the talent to be one of the top players,” Emerson Palmieri, a teammate of Paquetá in Lyon, told The Athletic earlier this summer. “He’s still young and I believe we have to have patience with him because sometimes youngsters have ups and downs.
“His quality is there for all to see. 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.”
Is Lucas Paquetá the Best Signing in West Ham’s History?
He could be, but it is far too early to know. That said, Paquetá is the all-action midfielder West Ham have needed for a while.
Since bursting onto the scene as a goal-scoring phenom, Tomáš Souček’s form has faded significantly. He is often aloof when the Hammers are in possession and is easily marked out of the transition by smart passing lane coverage.
The Czech Republic international’s offensive production has also fallen away, with opposition coaches adjusting their team sheets to counteract his aerial threat.
Furthermore, Moyes & Co. have started the Premier League season sluggishly and are in desperate need of a fresh injection of creativity. Paquetá, then, is exactly what the Hammers were looking for and will play a crucial role in their quest for success on the continental stage. There is little to dislike about his transfer to Stratford.
By: Luke James / @LukeJames_32
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images