Can Paquetá lead Brazil in Copa America amid betting charge?

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It was not an especially happy half hour for Lucas Paquetá when he came on for the closing stages of Brazil‘s friendly against Mexico in Texas. True, there was one sweet pass that nearly set up a goal for Endrick, but the West Ham playmaker was caught in possession for the move that led to Mexico’s first goal, and beaten in the air at the corner for the second. But there was no problem — and not just because 17-year-old Endrick got on the scoresheet for the third successive game, giving Brazil a 3-2 triumph right at the death.

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If Brazil were often disjointed, it was hardly a surprise. They started this game with a reserve team. Normal service will probably be resumed against the U.S. on Wednesday, and certainly against Costa Rica on June 24, when they get their Copa America campaign underway. And then Paquetá will surely be in the starting line up.

On the evidence of the last few months, it might even be possible to make the case for him being the most important player in the team. True, he is not Vinicius Junior, but Brazil have plenty of other options in the wide spaces. They do not have many players with the virtues of Paquetá — the capacity to dictate the rhythm, to combine and come up with the killer pass, to set the speedsters in motion. And then there is his versatility, his capacity to fill almost any position across the front or midfield lines.

In the March friendlies against England and Spain, it was easy to gauge his importance to the cause. He was back in the side after missing all six of the World Cup qualifiers between September and November, when the team stumbled to an unprecedented three straight defeats, leaving them them to languish in sixth place in the table.



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Luis Miguel Echegaray reacts to Dorival Júnior’s Brazil squad for the Copa America.

Paquetá did not miss those matches because of injury. He was not included in the squad because he was under investigation for alleged involvement in a betting scandal. The investigation has dragged on. Some thought it had blown over when he was recalled by the national team in March. Instead, things have become more serious. Last month, he was formally charged by the English Football Association.

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There was panic in Brazil’s FA. Paquetá had already been named in the squad for the Copa America. Should he now be dropped? There were frantic calls to media organisations to measure the response to keeping him in the squad. Local FA president Ednaldo Rodrigues said that he would make the decision.

According to the press officer, the other players mobilised in support of their colleague. Rodrigues announced that Paquetá would continue in the squad, on the undoubtedly correct legal grounds that he was innocent until proven guilty — and Paquetá stresses his innocence. He was the first player to be brought before the meet when the team met up in the United States. The Brazilian FA were trying to get ahead of the story, but there was little to learn.

Paquetá would only — understandably — say that his lawyers had instructed him not to comment on the situation. And so, for a while at least, this is not going to go away. And the stakes are high. If found guilty, Paquetá could be handed a ban so long that it would effectively end his top level career.

So what is he accused of?

The FA allege that on four occasions (against Leicester, Aston Villa and Leeds in the 2022-23 season and Bournemouth at the start of the last campaign) Paquetá deliberately picked up a yellow card. In the words of the FA’s website, he is charged with “deliberately seeking to receive a card from the referee for the improper purpose of affecting the betting market.”

In similar cases, Bradley Wood of Lincoln City received a six-year ban in 2018, and three years later Stratford Town’s Kynan Isaac was banned for 10 years. The charge against Paquetá is more severe because there are more incidents. And he is also accused of infringing another rule (F3), which can only lead to the conclusion that the FA feel he has not cooperated fully with the investigation — though in a statement the player issued on social media he said that “I have cooperated with every stage of their investigation and provided all the investigation I can.”

Globo Esporte in Brazil said the red flag was raised in March of last year, when an unusual number of bets were traced to the Rio de Janeiro area gambling that Paquetá would receive a yellow card against Villa while another Brazilian player from the city would also be booked in his game in Spain. Following this, according to Globo Esporte, a thorough investigation was carried out by the International Betting Integrity Association. Here it was found — information that The Sun newspaper in England has also published — that there had been around 60 bets, most of them relatively small, from the island of Paquetá. This is where Lucas grew up, about an hour by ferry outside Rio. In his case, Paquetá is a nickname rather than a surname.

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Could it be a coincidence that, allegedly, so many people from Paquetá island had a wager on the local hero seeing yellow? Presumably, the betting authorities and the FA feel that the evidence is strong that this goes beyond coincidence. Can it be proved? This is not a criminal case. The burden of proof is lower. The independent tribunal who will judge the case do not have to be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt of his guilt. They can be swayed by the balance of probabilities.

When the scandal broke last August, Paquetá was negotiating a move to Manchester City. That fell through as a consequence. But he stands to lose much more if found guilty — though this could take time, and any guilty verdict would surely be followed by an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Paquetá, then, will be playing under a cloud for a while. In the meantime, can he put it all to the back of his mind? Can he find a measure of peace on the field, expressing himself in the place that he does it best? If so, then there is an extra incentive to make every match from now on a declaration of his talent as a footballer — starting with Wednesday’s game against the United States.

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