It was in March’s Ligue 1 classique versus fierce rivals Marseille that Lucas Moura gave arguably the best evidence of why Paris Saint-Germain invested so heavily in him back in January 2013. Picking up the ball deep in his own half, within seconds the Brazilian flyer had evaded four opponents before driving into the box and dinking the ball over the keeper only for, with the Parc des Princes faithful already on their feet, L’OM defender Rod Fanni to clear off the line. “Every PSG fan I meet asks me about that run,” Lucas told FIFA.com.
Indeed, it is exactly that kind of breathtaking dash that has set the bar so high for the gifted winger or withdrawn striker, though it must be remembered that he only turned 22 on 13 August and talent alone is no guarantee of success. Yet despite facing “fierce competition” for a starting berth, Lucas firmly believes he is a more complete player since arriving in Europe and can help the Parisian giants extend their domestic dominance and challenge hard for UEFA Champions League glory.
What is more, after missing out on selection for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, there is also fresh hope in national-team terms with the appointment of a new coach in Dunga. On all this and more, he spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: During your first full season at PSG, you didn’t quite manage to cement a regular starting berth. How much of this is to do with the strength of the club’s squad?
Lucas Moura: One thing’s for sure: everybody wants to play and wants to start games, nobody likes being on the bench. We’re all playing for a very high-profile team and the competition here is fierce. They’re all established, top-quality players with more experience than me. But I’m in a good frame of mind and am keeping very cool. I’m biding my time, staying patient and working hard in training and in matches. What matters is being alongside these players, being a part of this squad and competing for trophies. When my chance comes, I’ll take it.
Your individual talent is not in doubt, but how does your style of play fit into the tight discipline of European football? And does the fact that you led Ligue 1’s assists charts last season prove you’re progressing as a player?
I never stop thinking that I can improve – I’m never going to be completely satisfied with my game. I’ve got to work on the fundamentals, not just the tactical side but the attacking and defensive sides of the game too. Even so, I felt pleased with my performances. The stats showed that I made a good contribution to the team and I appeared in a lot of games, even when not a starter. That’s quite normal in Europe. In tactical terms, I think that I’m used to it here now. I had a good grasp of what I needed to do and I’ve tried to add to my game. My style is to go straight for goal, at speed and with the ball at my feet, but I’ve managed to add other features to my game.
But it’s trademark moves like that, such as the stunning run against Marseille, that get people on their feet isn’t it? How did it feel though, when that great move didn’t end in a goal?
There’s no doubt that’s it’s my style of play that sets me apart and which has brought me this far. I need to be able to understand the European mind-set and add the characteristics I need, but without losing my style. I know that it [my style of play] can turn a game. When you’re out on the pitch, chances like that [against Marseille] stick in your head. Even during the run itself, I could already sense the fans getting on their feet. Later you start to realise it was something special. I barely slept for a week afterwards, I couldn’t believe the ball hadn’t gone in. It’s one of the best runs I’ve made, it won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Every PSG fan I meet asks me about it.
PSG have won the French championship for the past two seasons, while they fell at the quarter-final stage of the UEFA Champions League on both occasions. So, has European glory now become the club’s main priority, or is that a risky approach to take?
We know what our responsibilities are. Of course it’s not just the club president and the coach that dream of winning the Champions League, all us players and the fans do too. But you can’t put the French championship to one side. There’s no point denying we’re favourites to win it, that’d be hypocritical, but we still have to do the job out on the pitch and it’s by no means as easy as people make out. This is a very physical and hard-fought league. You need to keep your focus and be able to juggle the two competitions, but we’ve got the right players to do that. Of course we’re confident going into this season, that vibe filters down from the coach, from the club president. We’ve come really close [to reaching the semi-finals] twice, against Barcelona and Chelsea respectively [Editor’s note: PSG lost on away goals both times], but the most important thing is that we’re always in the mix. PSG hadn’t been in the competition for a long time but now we’ve got the chance to keep getting used to it, stay in the competition, get the fans revved up and then I’m sure we’ll be successful.
Changing the subject now to the FIFA World Cup. Did you watch Brazil’s games? What did you make of the tournament as a whole?
Yes I followed it. I was back home on holiday before coming back here for pre-season, so I could follow the whole thing. I didn’t go to any games, but I did watch on TV, cheering the team on with my friends. Even in our nightmares we couldn’t have imagined what’d happen to A Seleção. Of course everybody knew how good Germany were, they’re a team I always listed as the favourites, but it was a blackout. That can happen in football, and unfortunately it happened to us. About the World Cup as a whole, beforehand lots of people were talking negatively about our country, predicting that there’d be problems. But in the end the World Cup surprised everyone, and it was really cool to see the atmosphere among the supporters.
What was your verdict on the action on the pitch? When you’re a player, is it sometimes hard to watch, knowing that you might have been there?
I was a bit torn between feeling like a fan and a player. In a way I felt like I was there too, as I spent a lot of time in that [Brazil] squad, which barely changed following the Confederations Cup. We watched the semi-final in Africa, as we were already on a pre-season tour, and it was really upsetting. [PSG and Brazil team-mate] Marquinhos and I watched it together and it was pretty painful. Nobody could really understand it. Now it’s time to look ahead. The wounds will only start to heal once Brazil play more matches.
What was it like to see Thiago Silva, Maxwell and David Luiz when they got back from the World Cup? Did you talk about what happened or did they prefer not to mention it?
It’s difficult, isn’t it? Just imagine how many people had already spoken to them about, asking them questions, making comments. I think that what they really want to do is put it behind them. Of course it’ll stick in the memory, but they can still play and start easing the pain. My job is to give them a lift and help them move on. We’ve all got to flick the switch and focus on PSG, on the trophies we’re chasing. Life must go on.
There’s a new coach in charge of A Seleção now, so does that give you fresh hope of getting back involved? With one eye on Russia 2018 for example...
A Seleção has always been one of my goals. And as everyone knows, when there’s a change of coach it always raises hopes and increases motivation. We know that a new process is starting, that every coach has a different way of thinking. I know I’ve got the ability. I was in the Brazil squad for nearly three years, which didn’t happen by accident. It comes down to me, to always giving my best, because I know that Dunga will be watching. The opportunity is there.
To continue on that theme as we conclude the interview: having been in the Brazil squad for such a length of time, do you think you were ever given a real chance, in the shape of a run of games, to prove your worth?
It’s hard to talk about. You know that when you speak out it can generate controversy, it can cause a stir. Everybody knows that I didn’t get the continuity I would have liked, I did want more playing time. I had one chance to start a game under Felipão [Scolari] and ended up getting subbed off at half-time. That’s a real blow, any player would feel the same. You need to get a run of games to boost your confidence. It was like that before too, I’d always be brought on with ten, 15 minutes left, with the result already decided. I’m not criticising: it’s up to the coach to decide and you have to respect and understand that. But, as I said earlier, I’m at ease with myself, I’m in a good frame of mind. There’s no use looking to the past, wondering if something could have turned out differently. I’ve just got to show what I can do.