Flamengo’s talented attacking midfielder has drawn early comparisons to a young Kaka and he is now hoping to follow in the San Siro legend’s footsteps
When it comes to breaking out and making a name for oneself in world football, a well-placed cheerleader or two never goes amiss.
Flamengo hotshot Lucas Paqueta is fortunate, then. The midfielder, who has just completed his move to AC Milan, has long been championed by some very influential figures within the world of Brazilian football.
Indeed, Selecao boss Tite is already convinced that Paqueta has what it takes to succeed at the highest level, even comparing him with two of the country’s top talents.
“Lucas thinks about football in the same way as Neymar and [Philippe] Coutinho,” Tite enthused when asked about the Rio native, who received his first two international caps in September.
“When we played against El Salvador he had a series of exchanges with Neymar, practically without having seen him before and without playing together. They linked up with their eyes closed.”
At just 21, Paqueta is at the forefront of an exciting new generation of Brazilian stars, alongside Rodrygo, Everton and Pedro, with his upright elegance on the ball reminding observers of a young Kaka.
Perhaps it was with memories of their playmaking idol in mind that Milan pushed harder than anyone for Paqueta’s signature.
Both Barcelona and Real Madrid had been linked with the attacking midfielder, while there was also interest from Manchester United that fell short of a formal approach.
The Rossoneri, however, won out in the end and, in October, Flamengo confirmed that their gem would be moving to Italy in January.
While they did not disclose details of the transfer, it is believed the Rio giants will pick up around €35 million (£30.6m/$40.5m) from Paqueta’s sale.
Even so, allowing Paqueta to leave was not an easy choice for Flamengo. Paqueta was sensational during his breakout season, playing a mammoth 65 games in all competitions in 2018, scoring 13 times while adding another five assists to his team’s cause.
He primarily started in a more withdrawn central midfield role, but exhibited a deadly touch around the box when picked to play just behind the centre-forward.
That versatility is another asset, while he is no slouch in the air, either. Even Kaka himself has been impressed by his apparent heir’s many attributes, even if he is keen to avoid placing too much pressure on Paqueta’s shoulders.
“He’s a player who has a bright future ahead of him,” the 36-year-old – who won the Champions League and Serie A with the Rossoneri – told Milan TV.
“He’s already been called up to the Brazilian national team, but it’s better for him that we don’t make comparisons. I’ve seen so many of them in recent days, with me, with [Alexandre] Pato, with Ronaldinho, Cafu, Rivaldo… with all the Brazilians who have been part of Milan’s history.
“We need to avoid these comparisons so he can come here and play calmly and peacefully. But I’m confident.”
In an ideal world, Paqueta would be given time to settle into life at San Siro. He may not be afforded that luxury, however.
Years of under-achievement have left Milan fans debilitated and disillusioned, with a succession of coaches and players failing to return the glory days of the last decade back to the club.
The supporters crave a saviour, and a tall, rangy Brazilian playmaker who is as adept at scoring goals as he is creating them is bound to create a buzz around the Italian city.
Gennaro Gattuso and those in charge must be extra-cautious with their new signing, and allow him to make his name gradually and as part of a wider team effort.
Only time will tell if Paqueta becomes as beloved to the Rossoneri faithful as his compatriot Kaka, or if he can aid their desperate desire to leave the also-rans behind and challenge Juventus’ stranglehold on the Scudetto.
But, for now, the playmaker is making all the right noises – and if a tactician as canny as Tite sees something special in him, it is fair to say that he has everything in his favour to succeed in Italy’s Serie A after excelling in Brazil’s.