Critics may never be satisfied, but Brazilian midfielder Paulinho deserves a chance to prove what he can do for a Barcelona side under the cosh
If you think that FC Barcelona signing Guangzhou Evergrande central midfielder Paulinho for $47 million is one of the weirdest transfers in recent times, then you are most definitely not the only one who shares this opinion.
However, the Brazil international has been growing in confidence over the past 12 months, which earned him a surprise return to the Seleção. Could the 29-year old end up surprising the skeptical European crowd?
In theory, Paulinho is not even close to be the ideal fit for Barcelona’s tiki-taka system, let alone the missing puzzle. The Catalan side usually requires midfielders with higher technical ability and better passing skills. However, Paulinho’s arrival could be a sign that it is Barcelona that is willing to change its identity, or what’s left of it. As a matter of fact, during his second spell at Olympiacos, in between 2010 and 2012, Ernesto Valverde had the tendency of relying on a work-engine in midfield. It was clear that he is a manager who appreciates midfielders with a high work-rate, and in this criteria, Paulinho certainly fits in.
Last season, especially in decisive Champions League games, it seemed that Barcelona lacked not just creativity, but even the slightest amount of chance-creation, whenever Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were heavily marked.
Stopping these three automatically meant stopping serious goal-threat, in most cases. Paulinho is considered a midfielder, and would certainly be used in a central role at Barcelona, but he is effectively, closer to be a second striker or even a false nine. Why the emphasis on the word “false” nine?
In many games with Brazil, Paulinho always took advantage of Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Neymar keeping the back-line busy, to sneak in to the penalty box and convert tap-ins to the back of the net. Perhaps the World Cup qualifier away to Uruguay was the perfect example, highlighting the goal-threat that the new Barcelona star could add. He opened his account with a long-range missile that left Fernando Muslera with no chance, was then on the rebound of a Roberto Firmino shot, before completing his hat-trick by converting Dani Alves’ cross with his chest, to the back of the net.
In the next game against Paraguay, Paulinho stood out with his presence in the final third, by setting up Philippe Coutinho with a wonderful back-heel for the opener, before launching Marcelo with an even better one [back-heel] for Brazil’s third. While he may not be as good of a deep-lying play-maker as Jean Seri, nor anywhere near as skillful on the ball as Marco Verratti, Paulinho remains an utility player who can thrive under specific circumstances when utilized in a role that suits his characteristics.
If Barcelona are looking for someone who would help them control the tempo of the game, then they should have gone for someone else. But if they want someone who could add a verticality to their play, then Paulinho would certainly be their go-to man. The frustration of Barça fans is mainly because they believe they are in desperate need for someone who fits in the first profile, rather than the second, where Paulinho.
In the end, only time can tell whether Valverde’s bet on the Brazil international will pay dividends…or not. Until then, Paulinho will most certainly have a lot to prove, in order to gain the sympathy of a very demanding fanbase.