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Paulinho moves to Barcelona? Yes, really

Wednesday 16th August 2017
Why did Barcelona pay so much for Paulinho, whom Spurs sent to China for a loss? Why did Guangzhou Evergrande sell? The deal defines the term silly season.

Football's elite aren't even a handful of all the world's professional clubs. Nevertheless, their status means their players tend to be cream of the crop to match. Barcelona are undoubtedly elite. The Catalans regularly sign top footballers. Buying a player with a dubious history from a Chinese Super League club raised a few eyebrows, however.

Xavi. Andreas Iniesta. Pep Guardiola. Just three of many world class midfielders who have graced the Nou Camp over the years. There was also this guy.
The Blaugrana are renowned worldwide for their talent in the centre of the pitch. More importantly, their talent for maintaining possession and intricate build up play through passing.

Such football can't be achieved week in week out without top class players in the middle of the park. You would naturally think their recruitment in this area would be reserved for only the best, rather than a reclamation project. Yet, in a somewhat confusing move, the club have unveiled Paulinho. The very same Paulinho who failed to make any positive impact whatsoever at Tottenham Hotspur before departing for China in 2015.

The Brazilian moved to Guangzhou Evergrande in 2015 to escape a lacklustre spell in England, to be forgotten, to see out his playing days in China. Or so we all thought.  Two summers later, however, he has returned to step onto one of the football world's biggest stages. You might be forgiven for thinking this a panicked reaction to Neymar's defection. It isn't. Barcelona has been pursuing the rangy midfielder for over a month.

Over the weekend, they finally landed him for roughly £35million. It takes a little time for that to process. A man who was sold by Tottenham for a loss after 2 very underwhelming years at White Hart Lane has somehow managed to engineer a big money move to one of the biggest teams in Europe. It really does make you wonder what the thought process has been behind the move?

Has he found himself? Is he really someone with the quality and ability to ply his trade for the giant that is Barcelona? It isn't as though he went to China simply for cash even though he possessed the ability to play at a higher level. He was no Ezequiel Lavezzi or Graziano Pelle.  He left for China with the reputation as one of Tottenham's biggest flops after his £17 million pound arrival.
At first glance, you'd expect the Brazilian will back up the players Barca already have. When you check the numbers, though, Ernesto Valverde needs a midfielder to start. At 33, the great Iniesta is no longer a player Barcelona can rely to be the world class talent he has been twice weekly. He needs midfield men around him to lighten the load. Even before Neymar's shock departure this summer, Sporting Director Robert Fernandez's first priority would have been a midfielder.

Marco Verrati was touted for a move early in the window. That interest was quickly quashed by the ambitious Parisians.

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho is heavily linked with the club. Absent from the Reds' Champions League first leg qualifier against TSG Hoffenheim because his head has been turned, Coutinho would more than likely play a much deeper role as opposed to replacing Neymar like for like. If Barcelona do indeed secure the playmaker's services, they needn't worry in terms of their midfield this campaign.  Without him, unseating Real Madrid as La Liga champions with Paulinho pulling the strings is a frightening task.

Why did Evergrande sell? Luis Felipe Scolari's club comfortably tops the Chinese Super League table, five points beyond Shanghai East Asia with ten matches to play. Its attack runs through 26-year-old Ricardo Goulart, a poor man's Coutinho, who went straight from the Brazilian Campeonato to the CSL.
Operating as a second striker, Goulart has registered more than double both the goals and assists Paulinho provided from a deeper position. With the Chinese FA continually reducing foreign eligibility for Chinese clubs and Colombian Jackson Martinez set to come on board in the New Year, the new Barca man was expendable. That's hardly a ringing endorsement for an invitation to play for Barcelona, however.

Whichever way you look at it, Paulinho's signing makes zero sense. Even if he had played better than anyone in China, the league's quality renders it no gauge for his potential with a Champions League contender. He will be thirty next summer, physically speaking his best years now behind him, and has never displayed any overbearing qualities. In a word, it's baffling Barca pursued him at all. If he is to start for the club in the coming campaign, fans at the Nou Camp have every right to be concerned about their teams prospects.
Ryan Stewart

23 years old, Sport Journalism graduate living in Salford. Work in web content in Media city and always looking to break in to sports writing. Manchester United season ticket holder.


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