Lucas Paqueta: The boy from Paqueta Island wanted by Man City now facing lengthy ban

Lucas Paqueta dances to celebrate a Brazil goal
Lucas Paqueta's potentially glittering career is now hanging by a thread - Reuters/Carl Recine

When Lucas Paqueta was first found to be under investigation for gambling offences in August last year he was dropped by the Brazil manager of the time, Fernando Diniz, for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers – although nine months is a long time in Brazilian football.

Diniz, the second caretaker coach for the Brazil team in the course of 2023, has been succeeded by Dorival Junior, who has subsequently rehabilitated Paqueta. He started the friendly against England at Wembley on March 23 and the next against Spain at the Bernabéu Stadium three days later when his last-minute penalty earned a 3-3 draw. As of Thursday he was in the Brazil squad for the Copa America that starts in the United States in less than a month, although the Brazilian football association (CBF) may yet have to reverse that decision.

The career of one of Brazil’s best players, and an emerging star of the Premier League, is hanging by a thread. At 26, Paqueta will know that the kind of ban that could be imposed by a regulatory commission, if it finds him guilty of the charges levelled by the English Football Association, could end his career. He has 44 caps, a Premier League contract and the possibility of a move to Manchester City – or at least he did. Now all that hangs on whether his lawyers can demonstrate his innocence.

The case will be heard this summer by a three-person regulatory commission drawn from a series of FA lists of individuals with football and legal backgrounds signed off by the clubs at the start of the season. If found guilty of the charge of spot-fixing – in this case, deliberately getting booked in order that others might profit from bets placed in that outcome – then Paqueta may expect a ban measured in years rather than months. He denies the charges in their “entirety”.

Lucas Paqueta is shown a yellow card
Paqueta is shown a yellow card by referee Jarred Gillett against Leicester on November 12, 2022 – one of the matches which the FA charges are based on - PA/James Manning

FA-appointed regulatory commissions establish guilt on the balance of probability, rather than beyond reasonable doubt, and that threshold has not proved insurmountable in many of the cases.

Paqueta was close to becoming a City player last summer, one of the lucky few in the world considered good enough by Pep Guardiola and Txiki Begiristain, the sporting director, to join the most formidable English team of the era, That move fell through although it would be what happens to his West Ham contract that would be a significant question were the FA’s case against him to prove successful.

He is a modern player capable of playing a number of positions, the traditional No 10 as well as wide on the left or deeper. His great talent is one prized in Guardiola teams and all those who seek to imitate them: he can keep the ball in tight spaces. He has a great range of passing and he can score goals. It is not always easy to shine in a West Ham team that often prefers to play on the counter-attack but Paqueta has done so. Good performances for West Ham in the Premier League are one thing – a move to City would have taken his career to an entirely different level.

In Brazil he played for Flamengo before his talent took him to Europe in 2019. From AC Milan to Lyon he was West Ham’s record signing in 2022. He is best known in Brazil for his goal celebration dances that mimic the latest trends on social media.

It has been some time since the FA has had a disciplinary case on this scale. The John Terry and Luis Suarez racism cases in 2012 and 2013 respectively were, for the period in which they ran, the biggest stories in English football. The charges against Paqueta are of a different flavour but go right to the heart of the game’s integrity and its extremely problematic relationship with the gambling industry.

It may also potentially shine a light on what might have happened on the tiny island of Paqueta off the coast of the city Rio de Janeiro in the Guanabara Bay – the home town of Lucas himself and from where he takes his name. Less than half a square mile in size and a tourist destination for day-trippers from the city, it is from Paqueta Island that the bets in question were placed. Whatever might have happened, there are some very committed Premier League punters among the locals on Paqueta Island, with a keen eye for yellow card trends.

The question is what affiliation – or, indeed, obligation – connected Paqueta the footballer with the people of Paqueta the island. Residents share the same surname. Cars are forbidden and trips to the shops – or indeed the bookmakers – have to be undertaken on foot or with a horse and cart.

It was not an ideal end to the day for West Ham who had announced Julen Lopetegui as David Moyes’s successor a few hours earlier. For the club itself there is an asset worth as much as £70 million in today’s market at stake. If he is banned by the FA and then worldwide too by Fifa, his value will be nill and a very promising career may find it hard to get going anew.

Three of the four incidents Paqueta has been charged over:

March 12, 2023: Paqueta booked for foul on Aston Villa’s John McGinn

May 21, 2023: Paqueta booked for foul on Leeds United’s Crysencio Summerville

August 12, 2023: Paqueta booked for handball vs Bournemouth