Paulinho exceeding expectations at Barcelona
So many questions were raised before and after Barcelona completed the signing of Paulinho in the summer. However, the Brazilian seems to be answering his critics with assured performances for the Catalans so far.
Two years ago, many Tottenham Hotspur fans would probably have chuckled at suggestions that Paulinho will one day play for Barcelona. And quite frankly, they were right. Signed from Corinthians for £17million, the Brazilian, a fast-rising star at that time, was tipped to take the Premier League by storm; adding some flesh and steel to Spurs' midfield.
Sadly, that never happened. Paulinho failed to cover himself in glory. He never lived up to the hype with underwhelming displays despite featuring regularly with 67 appearances in two seasons. And Tottenham fans couldn't believe their luck when Chinese side, Guangzhou Evergrande, paid £10m for his services.
Fast forward to 2017, the same player is plying his trade at an even bigger club.
How that happened remains somewhat mysterious. Knowing Paulinho never really matched Barca's classic mantras. In the past, the Blaugrana have built their midfield with technical and nimble footballers who can dominate the ball. Paulinho is proficient in those areas, albeit his game is about power, as he looks to win the ball back and drive forward. Also at 29, it was believed he had gone past his best. Add that Barca coughed out a whopping £35m for his services, then you'd agree the Spanish side made a huge gamble.
But contrary to popular expectations, Paulinho has fitted in nicely to Ernesto Valverde's midfield system. The Brazilian has found the net twice in just six games in the Spanish Premera Division. One of which was a crucial winner off the bench on the road at Getafe. As surprising as it may seem, he's the club's third top scorer, behind only Lionel Messi (15) and Luis Suarez (three). Paulinho's creative touch has also come to the fore, lacing an assist already in the league.
While his compatriot, Neymar, simply found it wearying coping under Messi, Paulinho has seemingly done that with ease. In such short time, the 29-year-old has struck a formidable bond with the Argentine. "Playing alongside Messi is special for me. He's a player I always wanted to play with," he says. "My job here is to help [Messi] continue to be the best player in the world."
Paulinho's rather contrasting style of play has turned blessing for the Blaugrana. Of course, he isn't the most aesthetically pleasing player and not even Barca can change that. Instead, he has used his strengths to great effect in Catalonia. Known for his work ethic, movement and energy, Paulinho has brought some physical presence to an otherwise lightweight Barca midfield, plugging all the holes within the team. And given how Rakitic's form is slowly disintegrating, he will most likely get more game time under his belt.
Paulinho doesn't fit the clichéd phrase that is often associated with midfielders with a brilliant first touch and metronomic passing in the middle of the park, he has shown that he can do a “job” when called upon and do it well.