Adam White

Spurred On

Adam White
Spurred On

Maxwell and Edinson Cavani goals lead PSG to a comfortable 2-0 Le Classique victory as  Jose Anigo’s OM visited Paris in 2014 but it was Lucas Moura who provided the enduring memory of the encounter, a moment which has encapsulated his stay in the French capital. Picking up possession 30 yards from his own goal the then 21 year old showed frightening acceleration, poise and raw skill as he blurred past a host of failing Marseille tackles before barring down on and drinking over Steve Mandanda.

Lucas had been in Paris a little more than a year after PSG held off Manchester United to sign the Sao Paulo winger for, what was then, a fairly hefty 45 million euros even by QSI’s standards. However, that searing run is regarded by many as the highlight of his relatively short career to date. Tellingly, Lucas failed to better it across four further years in Paris, highlighting potential that supposedly wasn’t ever fulfilled. Meanwhile despite the obliteration of the Marseille defence, Lucas’ run failed to end in a goal. A weak shot, although making it over Mandanda, was cleared by a sliding Rod Fanni on the line.

Over the four seasons that followed Lucas regularly threatened to finally assert himself in Ligue 1 and hold down a regular place in the Parisien 11 and find some consistent form without ever doing so, leading to murmurings of criticism and in part to his exile under Unai Emery before a cut price 25 million move to Spurs. Undulating form aside, events conspired against Lucas in Paris and, still just 25, Mauricio Pochettino may have yet secured a player ready to finally explode.

While the Brazilian could perhaps flitter in and out of games, his direct dribbling style always meant he was a poor fit for PSG as Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc and now Unai Emery have largely espoused, arguably through necessity, a slower possession based game which rarely afforded Lucas the space nor the license to to run at defences as he did so devastatingly against OM. Meanwhile, given PSG’s overpowered squad, visiting sides have almost without fail sat in against Paris and doubled up on  wide players meaning Lucas, just as Angel Di Maria, Ezequiel Lavezzi and others have been, was regularly suffocated.

Unfortunately for Lucas, where Di Maria, Lavezzi, Julian Draxler and co posses a more varied skill set that allows them to affect these sorts of games by other means, the Brazilian is an flat-out winger who deals almost solely in isolating his full back and using his acceleration and poise to create openings. As a result Lucas ended up being used mainly as an alternative, as he proved much more adept at affecting games as a substitute when teams were tired and matches stretched. To his credit, Lucas consistently had an impact in this role, regularly affecting games when given that chance as sub, offering something different to his peers.

Although not comparable to the likes of Di Maria, Draxler in control, vision and passing, Lucas had started to adapt to the Parisien’s well worn passing, patient style and ended an admittedly unsuccessful first season under Emery in 16/17 as PSG’s second top scorer, contributing 19 goals in all competitions, and providing the second most assists with 11. It was arguably Lucas’ best season, at one stage edging out a frustrated Di Maria as first choice on the right hand side in the spring.

As a result his banishing this season, in strictly footballing terms at least, is all the more surprising as PSG’s game has evolved a little with the signings of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, now leaning more towards individual moments of brilliance and pace in wide areas. While Lucas wouldn’t be first choice when competing with the 400m euros worth of talent added in the summer, he would perhaps have been a able understudy to Mbappe particular.

However, events again conspired against him. Despite some early attempts by Emery to move to 4231, 433 is now virtually enshrined in Parisien law while Edinson Cavani (for now at least) isn’t going to be dropped or moved back out wide meaning that Emery was left in the absurd position of having to choose between Neymar, Mbappe, Draxler, Di Maria, Lucas and Javier Pastore to fill two spots in his side. Although Pastore and Draxler to some extent have been used in midfield, Lucas found himself at the back of the line.

It seems that attempts were made by PSG to move Pastore, Di Maria, Lucas and even Draxler, who only signed in January and was a rare bright spot in PSG’s poor season, along this summer either as part of the Mbappe deal or to other clubs with FFP becoming a real concern. All however, Lucas included, seem to have flatly refused either not wanting to take what they would see as a step down or due to the fact that a number of them wanted to remain in Paris a little longer having settled after recent child berths. Lucas became the one to lose out, largely exiled from the squad, only rarely making the bench.

A is often the case at the Parc de Princes, reasons other than footballing ones provide a subplot here. With the acquisitions of Neymar and Dani Alves, the Brazilian contingent of an already infamously cliquey squad was growing in strength, so much so that Emery was reportedly dissuaded in removing Thiago Silva as captain after some limp leadership at key times in recent seasons. Neymar’s influence in particular is, of course, substantial and his close friendship with Lucas may have contributed to Emery’s decision to leave Lucas out over the others.

Upon Lucas’ move to Spurs Neymar openly criticised his compatriots’ treatment, explaining; “I’m sad, because he’s a good friend, he’s a quality player who was rarely used. I think it’s very unfair. He is my brother in football. Whatever the destination, I hope he will score a lot and he will return to the Brazilian national team. He’s not just a friend, he’s a very good guy. Here he could have been used a lot more but I’m not the owner of the team.” Perhaps Lucas’ rough treatment could be partly attributed to Emery asserting his authority on a squad that has regularly gotten away from him.

Where Serge Aurier’s arrival at Wembley this season from PSG seemed a risky, ill-fitting move - the Ivorian regularly having been in trouble with his coach, other players and the French authorities in recent times while his on field decision making and defensive acumen were also regularly questioned, Lucas fits Pochettino’s Tottenham side far better while the Premier League is much more suited to his abilities. Although it seems unlikely he supplant the likes of Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son or Christian Eriksen any time soon, the space he might enjoy later in games in a more open division could see him finally blossom into the unplayable forward he threatened to be as he ripped apart Marseille’s defence four years ago.

Adam White

Image: Doha Stadium Plus