Two years ago, Paulinho was on top of the world. When Argentinean playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme called Paulinho a ‘phenomenon’ and likened the Brazilian as the ‘black’ version of Frank Lampard for their similar box-to-box style of play, the 26-year-old simply took on board the comparison with little fuss, pledging to such a comparison as fuel for greater things.
“This comparison is a responsibility that I will take, I will not run away from it. Lampard is a great player…I intend to follow in his footsteps as he is a very professional guy. I’ve always looked at what Lampard does and to me he is a huge phenomenon. The way he hits the ball, what positions he takes up, he really is incredible.”
But following two seasons in England’s top flight, Paulinho has completed an astonishing move to Guangzhou Evergrande – the cash rich reigning Chinese Super League champions who are chasing their fifth consecutive domestic title and a second Asian Champions League title for a second time in three years – for £10m.
Not only does he leave England with his previously glorified reputation in shatters, but also 169 goals short of Frank Lampard’s goal tally in the English Premier League and 93 assists behind the Chelsea legend.
His departure for an a eight figure sum, though, seems to have been met with such delight from Tottenham’s faithful so much so that Daniel Levy has, momentarily at least, regained the trust of the club’s supporters. While the transfer fee highlights Guangzhou’s financial might, and Luiz Felipe Scolari’s power in negotiations, a £7m loss from their initial purchase of £17m seems to be a big win for the club especially given that the player has largely been underwhelming at the White Heart Lane.
But one can hardly blame former coach Andre Villas-Boas for falling into the trap of purchasing a stand-out player from an international tournament. Paulinho had impressed as Corinthians beat Chelsea to the Club World Cup back in 2013 and brought his good form into the Confederations Cup as he scored in the side’s opening match against Japan, scored in the 86th minute winner against Uruguay in the semi-final before playing a pivotal role in Brazil’s 3-0 win over Spain in the final. Furthermore, he was named the third best player of the tournament and was in the team of the tournament.
While he may not have the Samba flair, he is your typical box-to-box midfielder – he pressed aggressively in defence, but more importantly, is comfortable on the ball and has the ability to control play in midfield, while constantly chipping in with crucial goals.
But to classify Paulinho’s time at the White Heart Lane as a complete failure would be unfair. His career at the Spurs started off on a positive note, scoring in his second game against Dinamo Tbilisi, before scoring a lovely back-heeled winner in the Premier League against Cardiff before scoring another against Aston Villa in the match to follow.
Disaster struck when AVB was sacked following a 5-0 loss against Liverpool in December, a match in which he was suspended for a high-boot on Suarez. Up until then, he had been used as a no.8, but his role constantly changed following Sherwood’s appointment. And while he managed 30 appearances in the Premier League that season, his season was punctuated by an injury and the manager’s intention of constant team experimentations.
Mauricio’s appointment, though, effectively spelled the end for Paulinho. The Argentine tacticians high-intensity style essentially laid the Brazilian’s weaknesses bare. Returning late to season preparations following World Cup embarrassment, Paulinho was on the back-foot. Meanwhile, club youngsters, namely Ryan Mason, hit the ground running and was preferred by the coach.
Such was his fractured morale that his wayward shooting became laughing stock when he miscued a shot so badly against Burnley in April that fans were left bewildered. And rightly so. Paulinho’s arrival had promised so much, and yet he left having left not impact on the club.
When he needed a new start, Guangzhou came calling, declining a potential move back to Brazil. There are currently 23 Brazilians plying their trade in the Chinese Super League, none of them are nearly as young nor have the international experience that Paulinho possesses with his 32 caps. His move to China an early retirement of sorts.
But fortunately for Spurs and Levy – who seems to be eyeing the departures of several flops – Scolari came calling. Levy will simply be hoping that he can do the same with the club’s other unwanted players.