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Have Barcelona jumped the gun with Paulinho exit?

Thursday 12th July 2018

A year ago, FC Barcelona fans went into uproar when a deal was confirmed to bring Brazil international, Paulinho, to the club from Chinese Super League side, Guangzhou Evergrande for a fee in the region of €40 million.

It has now been confirmed that Paulinho will return to China, initially on loan but with a potential fee of around €50 million should the move be made permanent. While Paulinho was never really a fan favourite with Barcelona’s online fan base, was the Brazilian harshly treated during his time at Camp Nou?

There’s no doubt that Paulinho was an unpopular signing. Many Cules remembered his unsuccessful spell at Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, thus being extremely quick to write him off. Since leaving Spurs, though, Paulinho has found form in China, and for his country, in a more advanced role which allowed him to make late runs into the box which are always a nightmare for opposing defenders to deal with.

A big problem with the fans is that Paulinho wasn't a stereotypical Barcelona player. Cules have been spoiled in recent times with three of the games' best possession-based midfielders gracing the famous Camp Nou turf in Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. Since Xavi left, the possession game has died somewhat, with various coaches preferring a model that is better suited to getting the ball forward to the attackers as quickly as possible, While it isn't in Barcelona's DNA, it has still been a successful style for the Catalan giants.

Paulinho doesn't play in that way, nor is he a stereotypical Brazilian. He's not particularly skilful and he is unlikely to make many defence-splitting passes but in this Barcelona team, he does do something extremely important. Because he was willing to go beyond the forwards, he was creating another threat for the opposition. Lionel Messi's game has changed recently, he's is now playing a lot deeper than Luis Suarez. Therefore when Messi gets the ball, the only options he tends to have ahead of him are Suarez, or the ball over the top to Jordi Alba, who is always a willing runner on the left. With Paulinho in the side, Messi had a third option which took away more defenders for the Argentine, giving him more open grass to work his magic.

The loss of Iniesta is another blow for Barcelona's style, although they have signed Arthur from Gremio who can play that way. Perhaps the plan is to go back to those roots, but if Ernesto Valverde was unwilling to do it with Iniesta, it's hard to believe the change will happen this summer. In truth I'm not convinced he's the kind of coach who is going to deploy a tiki-taka style anyway. 

Last summer, Barcelona were forced into a transfer they didn't want to make when Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain. Although it seems Paulinho wanted to make the move back to China, the two deals were definitely different, as Barcelona didn't have to agree to this deal. In this instance, it's the La Liga club who feel they are better off without the experienced midfielder.

The majority of the reaction about the move has been relief from Barcelona fans who never really appreciated the Brazilian. However, in modern football, there are a number of players who might not be the most talented or sell the most shirts but they have a role to play; that's what Paulinho is. As it stands, Barcelona will go back to having no real goal threat from midfield which only increases the pressure on the ageing Messi, Suarez and the new kid on the block, Coutinho, to score enough goals to bring more trophies back to Catalunya. 

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Gerry Johnston

I am a 33-year-old sports writer from Ireland who enjoys watching European football. My main focus is La Liga, but I do keep a close eye on all of the major leagues throughout the world.

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