Barcelona fans had been warned. Back at the end of May, president Josep Maria Bartomeu said: “There will be signings that excite; others that perhaps less so.” Paulinho falls into the second category.
The Catalans’ €40 million acquisition of the Brazil international is baffling. At his best, the 29-year-old is a tough-tackling, high-energy midfielder, but one that still seems unsuited to Barca’s playing style. Furthermore, he had to rebuild his career in China after a dismal spell at Tottenham.
Paulinho was one of the players brought in by Spurs to make up for the departure of Gareth Bale, yet he never really stood out in England. Aside from one wonderful winner away to Cardiff, there was little to write home about and when Guangzhou Evergrande offered £10 million to take the player to China, Tottenham could not believe their luck.
So why did Barcelona want him? In fairness to Paulinho, he has done well in China, establishing himself as one of the standout players in an admittedly limited league. Under his former Brazil boss Luiz-Felipe Scolari, he has looked like the Paulinho of old, the one that impressed at Corinthians and also in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
A recent hat-trick against Uruguay was a surprise even for the player himself. But Barca’s interest was an even greater shock because Paulinho turned 29 last month and does not have the usual skill set associated with the Catalan club’s midfielders.
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Barca, of course, changed coach in June and new man Ernesto Valverde is keen to make the team more aggressive. However, it is widely believed that the Blaugrana are in need of a player who can pull the strings in midfield, as Xavi once did – and that is why their top transfer target this summer was Marco Verratti.
The Italian wanted to join, but Paris Saint-Germain refused to sell and there is no chance of a deal for the 24-year-old now. Still, however, it is puzzling to see Barca turn to Paulinho instead.
Even Xavi has admitted that Verratti was the right choice as his successor in the Barca midfield, while he has also praised Nice’s Jean Michael Seri, a player with a similar profile to the former Spain star and also the Italy international.
Seri is 26 and could be bought for around €40m at the most. So, spending all of that on Paulinho seems strange.
In theory, the Brazilian could provide cover for Andres Iniesta and also Sergio Busquets, but at the start of the summer, Barca’s plans were clear: a midfielder to control the tempo, a right-sided winger and a right-back. They also now need a left-sided forward following the departure of Neymar.
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Paulinho is not any of those things and his signing is reminiscent of the arrivals of Alex Song and Andre Gomes in recent seasons; players who did not look good enough for the Blaugrana.
It must also be a concern for Barca that, unlike Real Madrid for example, they are unable to sign players who want to join them – as shown by the difficulties in bringing in not only Verratti, but also Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin.
As the season started with a 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa on Sunday night, Valverde’s side looked short of options in midfield and also attack.
Time will tell whether they can improve, but Paulinho’s signing seems unlikely to make Barca any better.
Source: Ben Hayward| SN