- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 1, 2017

PARIS (AP) - Brazilian winger Lucas is finally fulfilling his potential for Paris Saint-Germain, five years after joining as a talented teenager with a big price tag weighing him down.

Lucas netted his 11th goal of the season in Wednesday night’s 4-0 French Cup win against Rennes. He has become a key provider for top scorer Edinson Cavani this season and has blossomed into one of manager Unai Emery’s main players.

It has taken quite some time.

His first two seasons were difficult and the last two were inconsistent. Fans were unsure what they were getting: was Lucas a finisher or a provider, a dribbler or a playmaker?

Lucas was actually a bit of everything, but nothing really stood out for long enough.

This season he has been extremely consistent, however, adding more goals to his wide repertoire of pace, skill, explosive running and perceptive passing.

“I’m much more settled now,” the 24-year-old Lucas told The Associated Press in an interview. “I was too young before.”

When he joined from Brazilian club Sao Paulo in 2012, it was only one year after Qatari investors QSI had taken over PSG.

He was one of the first of several big signings costing 40 million euros ($43 million) or more. PSG beat Manchester United to his signature - a coup considering how highly rated Lucas was by then-United manager Alex Ferguson.

But he found the expectation level, and other factors, tough to handle.

“(It’s difficult) for any player that leaves their country at 19 or 20, especially Brazilians,” Lucas told The AP. “We’re used to our country, our culture. Here it’s very different, it’s cold as well.”

He had snubbed United because of a phone call from Brazilian Leonardo, a former PSG star and the club’s sporting director at the time. When asked, Lucas said Ferguson did not call him.

“Everything was almost in place (to join United) but at the last minute Leonardo phoned me. He convinced me,” Lucas said. “I think because of the team, the Brazilians that were here at the time, I thought it would be easier for me.”

He initially struggled for consistency and was soon labeled by fans and pundits as a wasteful finisher.

“I was criticized a lot,” said Lucas, who has 34 caps for Brazil. “People were saying ‘Oh, he doesn’t score a lot of goals.’”

The frustration clearly lingers today at what he considered to be an unfair judgment of him.

“Statistics are important but they’re not everything,” Lucas said, his voice quickening with defiance. “You can create five or 10 chances in a match and the striker will miss them.”

At the end of this season, Lucas will have two years left on his contract. He feels right at home in Paris and says he does not see his future elsewhere.

Lucas comfortably conducted the interview in French. Earlier this week, swapping boots for skates, he spearheaded a promotional event for the 2017 ice hockey world championships, co-hosted by Paris in May.

“I have everything I need and I want to become a part of history here, like Rai, Ronaldinho,” he said, speaking about two Brazilians who are among the club’s most revered players.

Although Lucas is thriving, PSG is not the force it was last season when it won the league by a record 31 points.

PSG is third, three points behind leader Monaco, and has lost four matches: twice as many as last season.

In fact, PSG has not won any big games, failing to beat Monaco or second-place Nice. In the Champions League, PSG twice drew with Arsenal, finishing second and landing a daunting match against Barcelona in the next round.

The lack of a cutting edge in big games is somewhat down to the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who left for Manchester United.

The club also changed coach, with Emery replacing Laurent Blanc.

PSG’s four away losses were all before Christmas as the players appeared confused by how to approach games.

“It takes a bit of time to adapt to a new way of playing,” Lucas said.

Players were accustomed to a slick passing approach under Blanc, rather than the high-octane pressing game Emery brought with him from Spanish club Sevilla, where he won three straight Europa League titles.

“It’s the intensity, especially, he loves intensity,” Lucas says, enthusiastically. “He always tries to get us to close down the other team high up the pitch. We had a bit of trouble learning it and putting it into practice.”

PSG’s chances of catching Monaco rest heavily on Cavani maintaining his scoring form. With 29 goals in 28 games, the Uruguay striker is set to top his career-best mark of 38 with Napoli.

Having spent the last three seasons taking a back seat to Ibrahimovic, Cavani is now the main target.

“He’s playing in a position he likes: No. 9, center forward,” Lucas said of Cavani’s emergence. “He feels at ease.”

PSG plays a faster tempo with Cavani, who is at his most dangerous taking first-time shots and needs the ball played to him at speed. This suits Lucas’ style and in a recent win, he set Cavani up with a reverse pass the Nantes defense did not see coming.

“We have a very good understanding,” Lucas said. “You have to think quickly.”

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