'Lucas Paqueta is INNOCENT!' Friends of West Ham and Brazil star on poverty-stricken island he took his name from insist he has done nothing wrong as he faces 10-year spot-fixing ban

Friends who grew up with West Ham star Lucas Paqueta have leapt to his defence after it emerged he could face a ten year ban if found guilty of spot-fixing in Premier League games.

The Brazilian international - who earns a reported £130,000-a-week and was on the verge of a dream £85 million move to champions Manchester City - has been accused by the FA of deliberately picking up yellow cards in matches against Leicester City, Aston Villa, Leeds and Bournemouth in 2022 and 2023.

But locals on the tiny island where he grew up have told of their sadness and disbelief after their footballing hero was accused of improperly influencing the betting market by deliberately getting booked in a series of high-profile matches.

Islanders protested the star's innocence and begged football chiefs not to ruin the life of their favourite son as they spoke of the struggles Paqueta and his family had made on his journey to becoming an international star - who proudly took on the name of the poverty-stricken island where he was born.

One told MailOnline: 'He achieved this with a lot of sacrifice with his grandfather, mother, father, and uncles.

West Ham and Brazil star Lucas Paqueta could be banned for 10 years after the Football Association accused him of deliberately picking up yellow cards to influence booking markets

West Ham and Brazil star Lucas Paqueta could be banned for 10 years after the Football Association accused him of deliberately picking up yellow cards to influence booking markets

The FA have investigated suspicious betting patterns surrounding four bookings Paqueta picked up in 2022 and 2023

The FA have investigated suspicious betting patterns surrounding four bookings Paqueta picked up in 2022 and 2023

On Paqueta Island in Brazil - the place the player took his name from - residents are adamant that their hero has done nothing wrong
Locals spoke of Paqueta's good character, insisting he would never do anything illegal

On Paqueta Island in Brazil - the place the player took his name from - residents are adamant that their hero has done nothing wrong

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'His conduct is very good. I wish him good luck and hope everything is confirmed so that he is acquitted and brings joy to the Brazilian people, especially from Paqueta.'

Read More

EXCLUSIVE

West Ham star Lucas Paqueta facing 10-YEAR ban after being charged with spot-fixing in Premier League matches, with Brazil midfielder accused of deliberately getting booked four times

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Paqueta, 26, categorically denies the allegations and has vowed to 'fight with every breath' to clear his name.

He could face a career-ending 10-year ban or even be barred from playing for life.

The probe is alleged to have been launched after suspicious bets were traced to Paqueta Island - which is less than half a square mile in size and sits in Guanabara Bay off Rio de Janeiro - where the footballer grew up with his extended family.

Now islanders have dismissed speculation Paqueta could have been involved in a local racket to help support family and friends.

Football-mad locals insist everyone on the island closely follows his career but believe other forces may have been at play.

Childhood friend Manuel Eduardo, who took over running the island's football club from Paqueta's grandfather, said: 'Lucas Paqueta is innocent until proven otherwise.

'I know his character, I know his family, I've met everyone in his family, and he has never had these problems.

Paqueta has played 44 times for the Brazil national team, scoring 10 goals for his country

Paqueta has played 44 times for the Brazil national team, scoring 10 goals for his country

One of the bookings being investigated came in West Ham's game with Aston Villa in March 2023 (pictured)

One of the bookings being investigated came in West Ham's game with Aston Villa in March 2023 (pictured)

'He trained with me every day not long ago at the municipal football club on the other side of the island.

READ MORE

Lucas Paqueta charged by FA with breaking betting rules... tiny Brazilian island - which gave its name to West Ham star - is where bets were placed on him getting booked

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'I took over from his grandfather, who had to stop due to medical reasons, and I continued with the school's work. Through this, I got to know Lucas better.

'Later he went to Flamengo, training every day. He hardly ever came to Paqueta, but when he did, the first thing he did was put on the club's strip, which was kept at his grandfather's house, and go to the municipal club.'

He said a lengthy ban would be 'the end' for Lucas, adding: 'It's sad, but hopefully it won't happen. Hopefully, he proves his innocence to get out of this.

'His family has always been of good character, good honest people who helped Paqueta. And he always puts the name of Paqueta ahead of everything, that's why he kept this name.'

Islander Victor Castro said: 'I think there are many things going on, especially in the world he lives in football, in fame, that there might be external things that happened and they ended up using his name in a way that he didn't know about.

'It's not his profile, it's not his character. Regarding the punishment, I think it's very severe considering his age in football now, which is a short career.

Paqueta has expressed his surprise at the charges and continues to deny any wrongdoing

Paqueta has expressed his surprise at the charges and continues to deny any wrongdoing

'I want him to get out of this as soon as possible. We need him. Brazilian football needs him.'

Another local Mauro Nunes said: 'He's a relative of my wife - his father is my wife's cousin.

'I know he's a serious guy, dedicated to training.

'He's always been a calm kid. He never got into trouble, never got into fights or arguments, those things.

'I don't believe in this. I think this is some set up by clubs trying to devalue the kid.

'If he stays away for 10 years, it ruins the kid. I don't know, they're trying to ruin a promising young man who plays football, who brings joy to the game, who doesn't harm anyone, and doesn't need to gamble, considering the money he earns from football.'

While Neuza Maria said: 'We're rooting for everything to be resolved as quickly as possible because he's an excellent boy.

Children play football on Paqueta island in Brazil, where unusual amounts of betting activity were traced back to

Children play football on Paqueta island in Brazil, where unusual amounts of betting activity were traced back to

Paqueta island was rife with talk of the betting investigation when news broke last year

Paqueta island was rife with talk of the betting investigation when news broke last year

'I call him a boy because I've known him since he was little. He's our boy here in Paqueta, and we have a lot of affection for him.

'We want him to strive for success in life more and more and to represent us very well out there.

'About the possible punishment, Lucas Paqueta will not be convicted. We will cheer a lot, pray a lot because he's a boy who has a lot of strength, a lot of determination. He's an excellent player.

'He is a product of our island, and God willing, he will not be convicted and will not be away for 10 years. We are rooting for him, we believe in his honesty, and everything will work out.

'Everything will be resolved in the best possible way, and he will continue to represent us more and more.'

Another islander Roberto Leonardo said: 'From what I know about Lucas Paqueta, considering his sportsmanship, I think he is innocent.

Paqueta came under scrutiny for four bookings in particular, the first of which is above

Paqueta came under scrutiny for four bookings in particular, the first of which is above

A tackle on Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn was also one that triggered alarms

A tackle on Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn was also one that triggered alarms

'I met him and his brother Matheus - they are good, nice people.

'I think he would never do this but, as I have faith in God, the truth will prevail, and he will be cleared of all accusations.'

READ MORE

Watch the four yellow cards that could see West Ham star Lucas Paqueta banned for 10 years after the FA charged him with spot-fixing in Premier League games

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Born Lucas Tolentino Coelho de Lima, the footballer's father Marcelo was in the military while his mother Cristiane worked as a hairdresser.

Visiting the island is like stepping back in time. There are no cars and islanders - who earn average wages of just £550-a-month - get around on bicycles, rickshaws, golf buggies and horse-drawn carriages.

The island, which has 3,600 residents, has just one football pitch and Lucas largely learned his skills playing football in the streets and on the beaches with his older brother Matheus who plays for a team in Brazil's fourth division.

His late grandfather, Mirao, took charge of the island's football club and along with his mother was the greatest influence in his life as a youngster.

Between them they ensured Lucas attended training every day when he signed aged nine for Brazilian club Flamenco who plays at the world-famous Maracana Stadium in Rio.

Their daily routine started with an early morning 50 minute boat ride to the city before Lucas and his brother were dropped off at separate clubs on a trip that involved three separate buses before returning home by ferry at 1am.

Leeds' Crysencio Summerville was taken out by Paqueta, who was booked for this tackle

Leeds' Crysencio Summerville was taken out by Paqueta, who was booked for this tackle

Paqueta was under investigation when he picked up the yellow card against Bournemouth

Paqueta was under investigation when he picked up the yellow card against Bournemouth

When Lucas was 12 the family moved to the mainland but it remained far from certain whether Lucas would make it as a professional.

While he had the technical skills at aged 15 he was only five foot tall and he did not have the physicality of other players his age.

Despite the setback Lucas became a young star at Flamengo before signing for AC Milan aged 21.

He went on to play two seasons at Lyon before signing a five-year deal with West Ham for a fee estimated at more than £50million in August 2022.

Sergio Augusto, who was a former president of the local football club, told MailOnline: 'Here on the island, we believe he is innocent. As we have lived with him for a long time and have seen his perseverance, we believe he is innocent.

'I have known Lucas Paqueta since he was a child, since school days, he was a student of my wife, who is a teacher.

'He trained at the club where I was president not long ago, he trained with me. He would always come to our training sessions to practice before going to Flamengo.

An aerial view of Paqueta Island in Guanabara Bay, where the Brazil international is revered

An aerial view of Paqueta Island in Guanabara Bay, where the Brazil international is revered

A view of one of the beaches on Paqueta Island, where a makeshift goal has been constructed

A view of one of the beaches on Paqueta Island, where a makeshift goal has been constructed

'We see a lot of determination in him, a lot of sacrifice to leave Paqueta, which is a distant place, to go training. And seeing the discipline, the way he takes football seriously.

'I find it unlikely that he is guilty in this whole situation.

'I think he is well shielded from being influenced because I have a close relationship with his father and family in general. These current players are well shielded. I don't believe he is part of this system.'

Another local Jeronimo Alves said: 'I think Lucas Paqueta is innocent. His conduct comes from his grandfather, who was our coach, our second father.

'I know his family; we were almost like a second son to his grandfather. And Marcelo, Lucas's father, we grew up together, played together our whole lives.

'I think he should be acquitted. His conduct is very professional. He never drank alcohol, always slept early since childhood and he achieved this with a lot of sacrifice with his grandfather, mother, father, and uncles.

'His conduct is very good. I wish him good luck and hope everything is confirmed so that he is acquitted and brings joy to the Brazilian people, especially from Paqueta.'

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