You’re legally bound to mention Kaka’s name whenever discussing AC Milan’s latest Brazilian import, Lucas Paqueta.
Both players moved directly from Brazil at the age of 21, with Kaka graduating through through Sao Paulo’s academy and Paqueta starting out at Flamengo.
Both were already capped by Brazil upon arrival in Europe, having built a reputation back home as agile playmakers. Kaka had even played 25 minutes during Brazil’s victorious 2002 World Cup campaign.
Unfortunately for Paqueta, that’s where the current similarities end.
Kaka joined a Milan squad boasting the technical wonders of Cafu, Paolo Maldini, Andriy Shevchenko, Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo, Rui Costa, Fernando Redondo and Clarence Seedorf, all overseen by Carlo Ancelotti’s watchful eyebrow.
Milan lifted a 17th Serie A title in Kaka’s first season, ending the campaign nine points clear of Francesco Totti’s Roma. Kaka contributed from the off, taking over the playmaking reins from Costa on his way to scoring ten goals in 30 Serie A appearances during his debut season.
By the time he’d left Milan for the first time Kaka had added the Champions League, Supercoppa Italiana, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and FIFA Confederations Cup to his trophy cabinet.
The picture is very different for Paqueta. The 21-year-old joins a Milan squad no longer sitting at Europe’s top table. I Rossoneri are now fighting with all their might to keep hold of a seat at the kids’ table.
For Shevchenko read willing academy product Patrick Cutrone. For Maldini, Nesta and Alessandro Costacurta read Cristian Zapata, Mateo Musacchio and Alessio Romagnoli. Whereas Kaka had Pirlo, Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso for company in midfield, Paqueta has Tiemoue Bakayoko and Franck Kessie.
On the subject of Gattuso, Milan fans would swap the passionately functional manager out with Ancelotti in a heartbeat.
To expect titles to accompany Paqueta’s arrival, as they did with Kaka’s, would be akin to asking Fabio Borini to transform into a European Golden Boot candidate.
But that doesn’t mean Paqueta’s presence should be completely written off. The Brazilian has something that no other player in the Milan squad possesses- not even Suso, who would genuinely improve the Liverpool squad he left four years ago.
In the three games Paqueta has played for Milan, he’s already shown the ability to be unpredictable. He’s already displayed the ingenuity to provide moments that get bums off seats.
With Juventus’ domination limiting the rest of Italy to a scrap over Champions League places, those moments of unexpected genius begin to count for a lot.
The flick with which he took out Rodrigo Bentancur during the Supercoppa Italia final got the hype train nicely greased up and ensured Paqueta’s midfield opponents will now think twice about rushing in to press the Brazilian.
For his next trick, Paqueta pulled a rabbit out of the hat and left Daniel Bessa walking around the streets of Genoa begging for his dignity back.
It was a moment of skill that had a Made In Brazil© stamp all over it. A rare passage of play in which the lines between the playground and professional football blurred beyond recognition.
In an age where anything slightly noteworthy from a game of football can be found online within seconds, Paqueta’s impromptu moment of impudence has done more to get his name out there than a neatly taken goal.
Milan aren’t going to win the title this season. They’re unlikely to win it next season either, even if Krzysztof Piatek proves to be the real deal and not just the Polish Amr Zaki.
Failure to escape from a Europa League group containing Real Betis, Olympiacos and Dudelange means the Coppa Italia is the only piece of silverware Milan have left to play for this season, although they might have been eliminated at the hands of Napoli by the time you’ve read this.
With nothing else left, why not just have a bit of fun? Roll up, roll up. Get your tickets to the Paqueta Carnival while you still can.
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