It is well known that the first Brazilian in the top flight of English football was Mirandinha, the striker who joined Newcastle United in 1987. Less well known is that a much more high-profile Brazilian nearly came seven years earlier.
Winger or attacking midfielder Paulo Cesar — often referred to as Paulo Cesar Caju — almost joined Fulham in 1980. Paulo Cesar was part of the World Cup winning squad of 1970, and a key member of the team four years later. He would have been a fascinating asset to the English game but — a choice he looks back on with regret — he ended up refusing the offer because of the amount of tax he would have to pay.
However, he did spend some time in London. He went to some games, and was pleasantly surprised by what he saw. He loved watching Liam Brady at Arsenal — the wonderful left foot reminded him of Gerson, Brazil‘s midfield maestro from 1970 World Cup. And at West Ham United he was enchanted by the midfield class of Trevor Brooking.
More than four decades down the line, the Hammers have announced that, for a record fee, they have acquired an attacking midfielder with qualities that are sure to be appreciated by those who grew up on Trevor Brooking — and he comes, via Lyon, from the home country of Paulo Cesar Caju.
Lucas Paqueta might be relatively unknown to many Premier League fans. But there is an easy way to make them sit up and take notice. Lots of column inches have been given over to Brazilian talents moving to the Premier League or swapping clubs within it. There are players such as Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal from Manchester City) and Richarlison (Tottenham Hotspur from Everton). Neither are guaranteed a place in Brazil’s starting line-up. Manchester United have made big money offers to Ajax Amsterdam for Antony‘s transfer, who is a substitute for the national team.
Lucas Paqueta, meanwhile, is first choice in the yellow shirt. After forcing his way into the side during last year’s Copa America, he started ten of the subsequent 11 World Cup qualifiers, missing one game through suspension. While others are scrambling around trying to make sure of a place on the plane to Qatar, Paqueta looks like a lock in.
Not that he does much scrambling around anyway. There is an air of unhurried elegance about him, and real class in his left foot. If there is no express pace in his movements, he is a player capable of thinking and executing at top speed.
One of the best things about Brazil in the last 18 months has been the partnership and understanding that has grown between Paqueta and Neymar — and while Neymar might not be to everyone’s taste, the Paris Saint-Germain star is undoubtedly a magnificently talented footballer who sees things quickly.
Stars of this calibre are not always easy to play with — Pele was notoriously difficult — because it takes a quick mind and technical excellence to keep up. Lucas Paqueta can do this. Many cannot. He is also extremely versatile. By nature he is an attacking midfielder. But he has also featured as a false No. 9, and when Brazil chose not to field two wide men he can operate as a withdrawn winger, looking to cut in.
And he can also fill a deeper midfield position. In the early years of his career with Flamengo he received a solid grounding in versatility, because he would slot in wherever there was a need. There have been matches for Brazil where he has played in three different positions in the course of the same game, and done them all well.
So why, then, is he not a global star? Perhaps because as well as the technical, tactical and physical, there is also the mental aspect to consider. “Paqueta” is a nickname, derived from the place where he was born — a picturesque island in the bay outside Rio de Janeiro, where there are no cars. It might be expected that such a location might foster a calm approach to life.
But there has been a petulance to Paqueta that may well have held him back. Brazil coach Tite is a huge admirer. But he is also aware that there are times in the game when his player can get carried away and lose focus after a refereeing decision or a spat with an opponent. He may well have been too young for the move to AC Milan at the start of 2019. He arrived as a 21-year-old, and perhaps it came along too soon. Now he is turning 25. Age is no longer such an excuse, and he has a solid body of work with Lyon behind him.
True, Hammers boss David Moyes was unable to get the best out of Felipe Anderson, another Brazilian attacking midfielder. But Paqueta brings more options — and with the World Cup just a few short months away, he has a powerful incentive to hit the ground running. He can expect a warm East End welcome. His new club has a track record of loving this type of creative talent. And perhaps the island of Paqueta should prepare itself for an influx of curious holiday-making West Ham fans.