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From an auto-free island to dancing at Qatar 2022: Lucas Paquetá is Brazil’s diamond who shines brightly

A short tap-in, an explosion of joy and then breaking some funk moves. Lucas Paquetá was definitely feeling it, after putting Brazil up 4-0 in their Round of 16 match against the Republic of Korea, which duly sealed the South American side’s place in the quarter-finals at Qatar 2022.

A true powerhouse, Brazil looked impossible to stop, with the trio of Neymar, Vinicius Junior and Richarlison dazzling and dancing through the Asian defence. But it is also Paquetá who stole a bit of the show, an attacking midfielder, who puts in the hard work on defence, but is equally apt to show some class in attack and deliver the goods when it matters the most.

Born Lucas Tolentino Coleho de Lima, but widely known as Lucas Paquetá, the 25-year-old Brazil midfielder took his nickname from the Paquetá Island and the eponymous neighbourhood he grew up in.

What makes it so special? Well, the Paquetá island, which covers only 1 square kilometre, is an auto-free zone, so travel is limited to bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. One can only get there by boat, therefore has quite a slow pace of life for the Brazilian flair that everybody is used to. So much for Paquetá, though, who likes a dribble, a showboat, some touch of flair in his football.

He learnt that from Flamengo, one of the biggest Brazilian clubs, definitely the most popular, with over 50 million fans in the country, which had a state-of-the-art academy, which created players like Zico, Bebeto, Romario or Adriano. Even his current teammate at the Brazil national team, Vinicius Junior, learnt his trade at Flamengo.

“I’ve always looked up to Kaká a lot, right? For the life story and, of course, for everything he played. Because our story is a bit similar, the difficulty we had there in the transition to becoming a professional, to mature, in short… he’s a great player, I’ve always looked up to him and I think he’s been my idol since I was little,” said Paquetá.

At only 22 years old, Paquetá was making the rounds in European football, so much that Italian giants AC Milan forked out €35 million for him, hoping he will adapt immediately. Paquetá did not and was shipped out to Olympique Lyon for €20 million in a bid to salvage some face.

“At Milan, I put a lot of pressure on myself, too much. So, when I arrived here in Lyon, I told myself that I wouldn’t put up with it anymore,” said the Brazilian midfielder in an interview for French newspaper “L’Equipe.”

Immediately, Paquetá delivered vintage performances for the French side, which left Milan fans scratching their heads, as to where did the team fail to identify his potential. After Paquetá scored 21 goals in 80 matches for Lyon, West Ham United came knocking and the French side could not resist to a €60 million offer, which made the Brazilian midfielder the most expensive transfer in the Hammers’ history.

He did not settle immediately and had some injury trouble, failing to score a goal for West Ham in the months before the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Therefore, he could not show his trademark move to the fans who were expecting his trademark move after scoring a goal.

“I love to dance, I’ve always loved it. My celebration is my trademark, I’ve always done that – it’s a funk step. I love funk,” explained Paquetá to “L’Equipe”.

Well, he did not have to wait a lot for the funk step at Qatar 2022, where Brazil are shining, with two excellent games, in a 2-0 win against Serbia and the 4-1 drubbing of the Republic of Korea in the Round of 16.

Every time Brazil scores a goal, players round up and start dancing, in a choreographed routine. Paquetá is always there alongside Neymar, Richarlison and Vinicius Junior, celebrating every goal in the most Brazilian of ways.

Why does he do that? Well, the midfielder explains it best.

“I think the World Cup is synonymous with happiness for us, with emotion, with unity. It is where the people meet, gather to watch Brazil play, to celebrate, to support. I feel privileged to be part of this and, because I’ve been on the other side, I’ve cheered, I’ve painted the street, I’ve woken up early to watch the game, I know how important it is for everyone in Brazil and I’m also grateful for the support and their affection. I think football is synonymous with unity for us in Brazil. So, I hope that in this World Cup we can bring a lot of joy to the Brazilian people and celebrate a lot,” said Paquetá.

Now, the midfielder who loves funk, takes his name from a secluded island in Rio and scored at the FIFA World Cup, has the world at his feet. Can he help Brazil seal the sixth world title?

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