Brazilian Paquita is the pride of the whole island

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – To wear the shirt of the team that has won the most World Cups and is one of its main elements is a great pride for any player, but the matter goes beyond that for West Ham midfielder Lucas Paqueta, who has a whole symbolized island which considers him as its best ambassador in the Brazil team.

Few people outside of Brazil know this, but Paqueta is not Lucas Tolentino Coelho de Lima’s family name, but rather the name of the small island where he grew up in the bay of Rio de Janeiro.

With its old colonial houses, dirt roads and lush tropical vegetation, Paqueta is a popular spot for tourists and Rio residents looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the big cities.

In Paquita there are no cars but people walk around on bicycles or in pedal carts, and to get to the small town of 3,000 inhabitants which is officially a district of Rio, you have to take the ferry from the pier in the center of the city.

The journey to reach the island takes about an hour, and offers passers-by a breathtaking view of Mount Pau de Asocar and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, which gradually “reduces” as they approach the small island, characterized by its ancient charm.

“Awesome Left Foot”

Paqueta, the player, made this journey every day from the age of nine to eleven to train at Flamengo, the most popular club in Brazil and the club where he started his professional career in 2016 when he was nineteen years old.

Children play soccer on Paqueta Island in Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro on August 18, 2022. Mauro Pimentel, AFP/archive

But his first steps on the football fields were in the local club, Municipal Futebol Club de Paquita, where his grandfather was a coach for youth teams and his father a player in amateur leagues.

His first coach in the junior category, Iraquitan Veloso de Almeida, tells that “he came to the club with us when he was five years old and he kicked the ball against the wall of the dressing room.”

“As soon as we saw him hit the ball, we knew he had potential. He had a really great left foot,” said the 50-year-old volunteer trainer, who makes a living as a municipal policeman.

For 12-year-old Nicolo Rabello, “I want to be like him when I grow up, he’s an inspiration to everyone here,” he said, proudly wearing the club’s red jersey on the same pitch where Paqueta took his first steps in the direction of success.

Little Liquinha, as he was nicknamed at the time, had been running since the age of seven on the grass of the Municipal Football Club, which was surrounded by old concrete stands with faded red and white paint.

“Example of Success”

The house where the new West Ham player grew up, who started his European journey in 2019 in Milan, Italy, before joining Lyon in 2020, is located 200 meters from the stadium in the same street, and it is ‘ a metaphor for a modest home with upstairs bedrooms, while the basement was used as a hairdressing salon. His grandmother’s poetry and his grandfather’s carpentry workshop.

His grandparents, who were very close to him, recently passed away and the house is currently occupied by one of his aunts.

“His father was in the army,” says Veloso de Almeida. “They were not poor, but sometimes they struggled to get their money.”

His grandfather was the one who brought him to Flamingo practices every day and they would “leave at noon, after school, and come back late at night on the last ferry,” according to his first coach, who added, “Often they would only eat a sandwich because restaurants were expensive.” Extremely”.

He reveals that “Lucas is a role model here and a success story above all else. He went through the same problems as other islanders who rely on the ferry to get to work on land.”

But growing up on the island also has its advantages, because “here the children are ready to play sports. They are always out of the house and go to school by bike. They swim in the sea. They climb trees… “.

Growth problems

Young Lucas left the island with his parents at the age of 11, but other obstacles stood in his way.

Paquita Island in Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro on August 18, 2022
Paquita Island in Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro on August 18, 2022 Mauro Pimentel, AFP/archive

At the age of fifteen, his talent was very evident, but he struggled with growth, as he was only 1.53 meters tall.

Like former Spanish Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain star, current French Argentine Lionel Messi, Lucas “had to train separately and take nutritional supplements. His father told us about his growth problems, and it was a difficult time,” according to what was said by the Vice President of Municipal Soccer Club, Wilton Jose Emilio. Gomes, nicknamed “Kiko”.

Kiko is holding a pair of football boots that the player gave him as a “souvenir”, the same pair he wore when he scored his first international goal for Brazil in 2019 against Panama.

Fortunately, the little “Lucinha” gained almost 30 centimeters in three years and experienced a wonderful period of success in the first team of Flamengo, where he became a professional from 2016 to 2020 before moving to Milan.

For Jardis Nascimento (24), who was a classmate during his school days, it is “amazing to see a man who grew up with us shine like this. He is the pride of the island. We will all gather to watching the World Cup games. on a giant screen,” in what could be his first World Cup appearance in Qatar on Thursday against Serbia at the Lusail Stadium.

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