Monday 10 December 2018

Jonathan Liew: 'Moura seeking North London revenge for Emery's Paris humiliation'

Paris Match: Unai Emery gives instructions to Lucas Moura when they were both at Paris Saint-Germain last year. Photo: Getty
Paris Match: Unai Emery gives instructions to Lucas Moura when they were both at Paris Saint-Germain last year. Photo: Getty

Jonathan Liew

In the summer of 2017, you could have forgiven Lucas Moura for wondering if life could get much better. After an uncertain start at Paris Saint-Germain, he had turned himself into one of the mainstays of the side, playing more than 200 games in four seasons. He had four Ligue 1 winner's medals in the cupboard. He had a sumptuous apartment in the upmarket suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, his family were settled in Paris, and his first child was on the way. For a child from Sao Paulo's mean streets, things could certainly have been worse.

And so it was a curious and surprising turn of events that, just six months later, he was forced to pack up and leave Paris: cast out of the club and the city where he had made his home. He had barely played a minute all season.

His dreams of playing for Brazil at the 2018 World Cup had disintegrated into dust. With a mixture of regret and relief, he moved to Tottenham Hotspur, and by one of football's strange quirks, the architect of his Parisian nightmare is now the manager of Arsenal.

Just what transpired between Lucas and Unai Emery during those six months at PSG remains shrouded in more questions than answers. There were whispered stories that Emery was furious at the ceaseless disclosure of confidential dressing room secrets to the media, and had convinced himself that Lucas was one of the culprits.

Reports There were reports of a clash of personalities with new sporting director Antero Henrique. Another theory went that after signing Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, PSG were desperate to offload him in order to satisfy their Financial Fair Play obligations.

Whatever occurred, the fall of Lucas at PSG was as breathtaking as it was sudden. Having been a first-team regular for the previous four years, his league action in the entire first half of the 2017-'18 season amounted to just 71 minutes. Trapped in a cycle of endlessly training but never playing - and very often not even making the first-team squad - Lucas was publicly disowned by Emery, and when Tottenham offered to put him out of his misery in January this year, he described it as "a gift from heaven".

Lucas himself still doesn't know what happened. "I don't know why," he says ahead of this Sunday's reunion with his former manager. "It's something I cannot explain to you. Sometimes it happens. But I don't like to look behind [back]. I forget the last five or six months that I had at PSG. And I like to think about the four years when I was very happy there."

What made Lucas's demotion all the more surprising was that he had been Emery's most selected player in his first season at PSG, only to fall out of favour more or less instantly as Neymar and Mbappe commanded two guaranteed starting slots.

"I need to respect the decision of the coach," Lucas says now. "I know it was difficult for him, because he needed to choose 11 players to play. I had five years at PSG in which I won a lot of trophies, I was very happy there. Now, it's a new chapter in my life, a new challenge."

The ostracisation of Lucas did not go down unanimously well in the PSG dressing room. Neymar, who along with Lucas, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Dani Alves formed a powerful Brazilian nexus, went public with his disapproval, forcing Emery to defend both. "It is normal," Emery later said. "They are friends and both Brazilian. I wish Lucas all the best. He needed the chance to be a key figure, so it was better for him to leave Paris."

It wouldn't be long before Emery himself was leaving Paris, sacked the following summer after yet another meek surrender in the Champions League. And yet with a North London derby in the offing, Lucas was in no mood to reopen old feuds. But he did agree when asked whether Sunday's game at the Emirates was a chance to show his former manager just what he was capable of.

"I believe in my talent, in my quality," he insists. "I try to show it, show him, at Spurs. I like to look forward to what I can do, what I can win. I have nothing against Unai, I respect him, he's a very good coach. It's difficult to explain in English but he's a person who loves football, loves to work, and tries to show itto the players. The first year with him, I played a lot. The second year I didn't play, but it's OK. The last year was [for me] to learn and to grow up. Now I think I am a more experienced player, more strong."

And after a natural adjustment period at Tottenham, Lucas has begun to make a name for himself in English football. He was the star of the 3-0 win at Old Trafford earlier in the season, and in a team with plenty of craft but not always a great deal of pace, Lucas's rapid, elusive movement offers Mauricio Pochettino a different dimension in the final third.

With the memory of Wednesday's 1-0 win over Inter Milan still fresh - Tottenham's sixth straight win and one that just about keeps their Champions League qualification hopes alive - Lucas says the mood at the club is buoyant.

History "It's a very good feeling here," he says. "I believe we can win the Premier League, we can win trophies this season. I am here to help and to make history. We are capable of winning big games like we did against Chelsea and Inter Milan, and the next one against Arsenal. To win the next [European] game against Barcelona is difficult, but not impossible."

The claim that Spurs can win the Premier League this season is sure to raise eyebrows, but Lucas repeats it. "Of course I believe," he says. "I know it's very difficult.

Two years ago Leicester won the league. So we can do this. We never know what will happen. That's why football is so beautiful. So we need to work hard and enjoy each opportunity we have." It's a mantra Lucas himself is putting into practice.

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