Mail Sport visits Paqueta Island to find support is rife for Lucas

Mail Sport visits Paqueta Island to find support aplenty for their favourite son Lucas, amid betting allegations made against West Ham star

  • Paqueta Island is where bets were placed on Lucas Paqueta to pick up a booking
  • The Brazilian midfielder was raised on the island and has lots of support there
  • WATCH: It’s All Coming Up – Mail Sport’s preview show for the weekend’s football

On the 50-minute boat trip from Rio de Janeiro to Paqueta Island, across calm blue waters with the sun beating down, two teenagers are having a conversation in the row ahead.

It is Wednesday and they have just played a game in Rio and one of the lads played well, scored a goal and he is reliving the moment he left his opponents for dead. ‘I love the competition,’ he says, ‘And I hope to become a professional someday.’

The West Ham star Lucas Tolentino Coelho de Lima, known as Lucas Paqueta because, as is common in Brazil, he has taken the name of the place he grew up, probably thought the same when he took this same gentle journey every day. 

And make it he has; he plays for Brazil and was on the brink of an £85million move to Manchester City before controversy struck and the Etihad move fell through.

Three yellow cards Paqueta has picked up playing for West Ham this year are being investigated by the FA after suspicious betting patterns were noted by bookies — some of the bets originating from Paqueta Island.

The betting storm that Lucas Paqueta faces centres around suspicious betting patterns on three yellow cards he picked up, with some of the bets originating from Paqueta Island

The West Ham star grew up on the small island, just a 50-minute boat trip from Rio de Janeiro

Your browser does not support iframes.

Paqueta Island has about 4,000 inhabitants. It is small, just 1.2km² and is a figure-of-eight shape with 12 sandy beaches fringed by mango trees. The island used to be a big tourist pull and attracted the wealthy from Rio who had villas built here. It fell on harder times at the end of the 20th century but is gradually being rediscovered by residents and tourists as they seek some tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle, and crime, of Rio.

There are no cars, just rickshaws and electric carts trundling up sandy streets dotted with pink colonial buildings. The views of Sugarloaf Mountain and the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue back in Rio from Mirante Boa Vista up in the green hills are glorious. Wildlife is everywhere.

When Mail Sport arrives at the harbour where colourful fishing boats bob in the water, we learn there is no electricity on the island due to maintenance. ‘That’s a passport to go directly to the beach,’ says a man descending the steps of the boat.

But Mail Sport is not here to lie on the beach. We want to know if the island is worried about its favourite son.

Helter Gerard, 20, is the first to offer a lift in his electric cart. ‘Paqueta is very quiet,’ he says. ‘There are no big security problems. People like to live here. It was my mum’s dream.’

He knows Lucas Paqueta’s name, of course. ‘The island was all painted because of Lucas in the World Cup last year,’ he says. ‘He came here with a TV crew to film him and everybody was so happy. He played football with the kids and everything.’

It was a rare visit. But his roots are here: his father, Marcelo, and uncle, Alessandro, are visitors, and his brother, Matheus, comes once in a while.

‘It’s only natural a player of his calibre is unable to visit too often,’ adds Gerard. ‘It’s a different world when someone achieves what he did. And that’s why I don’t think he is involved with these betting schemes. He liked to goof around a lot on the island with his brother, but doing something incredibly wrong like that is not him.’

The island – which Paqueta is named after – has population of about 4,000 inhabitants, but Mail Sport finds there is extremely strong support for their favourite son 

The FA’s gambling probe into Paqueta meant his £85m move to Manchester City fell apart

The island has changed from Lucas’s younger days. The ‘footvolley’ pitch where he used to play was moved because the sea was encroaching. The field where he scored his first goals and bent his first free-kicks has also been beaten by the elements: the nets on the goals have gone and the grass has given way to the soft, sandy surface.

Not even the main football team of the island, Clube Municipal, is quite the same. According to Marcos Silva de Avila, 39, who has lived on the island since he was a kid and knows the Paqueta family well, most of the club’s better days were because of the West Ham player’s family, especially his grandfather, Altamiro.

‘Altamiro brought the football culture to us here in Paqueta,’ De Avila says. ‘He used to train us, no fees, and that helped the football scene grow on the island.

‘I also remember Lucas’s father, Marcelo, playing. He was very good. And then came Lucas and Matheus, always playing football on the streets. They were two happy kids here. Lucas was always more centred, down to earth, with a lot of quality. He shows that when he comes here.

‘He comes by boat, in regular clothes, talking to everybody. A very humble man. One of us. He is the only football player on the island to be this big, you know? There will be others, I’m sure.’

De Avila remembers Paqueta liked to play football everywhere and even if he did not have any friends to play with, he would find a way.

‘There was a neighbour of his that used to hate it when he didn’t have friends to play with,’ he says with a smile. ‘Her walls and doors suffered because he would kick the ball at them all the time. She used to complain to his father: “Please, don’t let him do it. It’s ruining my walls and destroying my gates”. That’s the only bad thing I can think of about Lucas.

‘Lucas helped during Covid. I guarantee you he is not into this betting thing. It’s not in his character or his family’s. His grandparents, his parents, his uncle… all of them are good people. It’s absurd this is happening to him in the best moment of his career.’

Conrado Moraes, 30, who owns a little hotel on the island, remembers fondly his playing days with Lucas, the youngest of the group. ‘He was already playing in the youth set-up of Flamengo when he started playing serious games with us. It was funny to see that his mother was on the sideline and afraid, not wanting her boy to get hurt. But this also shows his talent, because he was four years younger and still had enough quality to play in an older group.’

The general feeling on the island is Paqueta did not commit the allegations he is accused of

The FA granted West Ham’s request to postpone his formal interview over the alleged breaches

Online gambling on football is a booming market in Brazil. And it has reached Paqueta Island. During lunch at a restaurant, Mail Sport overhears conversations between lads milling about in the square outside on the odds of the match between Corinthians and Estudiantes.

So would people bet on Paqueta getting booked? Would he know about it? De Avila is quick to say no. ‘There are only small wages on the island and people would not endanger a loved person’s career just to earn money,’ he says.

But Brazilian football is in bed with the bookmakers: 19 of the 20 top-flight clubs are sponsored by them. The government are investigating match-fixing in the Brazilian first and second divisions. Some players have been given life bans.

And now Lucas Paqueta’s name is in the Brazilian headlines. He denies all knowledge but the FA probe has denied him the chance to play for Brazil in World Cup qualifiers next month.

But ask the friendly people of Paqueta Island and they are in no doubt: any suspicious bets are nothing to do with their favourite son, a player they remember as a kid who just loved the game.


It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

Your browser does not support iframes.

Source: Read Full Article