Brazil’s World Cup star Paulinho writes career ‘was in the grave’ but not at Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande
Barcelona midfielder pens 3,000-word essay on the hardest points of his career before earning Russia 2018 nod from old Corinthians coach Tite
Brazil’s World Cup star midfielder Paulinho, who scored their opening goal in the 2-0 win over Serbia that sealed qualification for the round of 16, has written about his career on the Players’ Tribune website.
The former Tottenham Hotspur player revealed that Lionel Messi was the first person to mention a possible move to Barcelona from Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande, during an international friendly between Brazil and Argentina in Australia.
Paulinho writes that he forgot all about it as he was “enjoying” his football in the CSL and his lifestyle in China: “My wife and I had an amazing life there, and I was playing really good football. Before the Barça rumours, I was totally at peace there.”
The Barcelona number 15 writes that anyone who thinks his swapping Guangdong for Catalonia is crazy doesn’t know the half of a career that took its first steps in Lithuania, where he endured racial abuse, and nearly quit the game at 19.
Now, a decade on, Paulinho is at the World Cup in Russia and one of the first names on the teamsheet for Brazil manager Tite, a coach who mentored him during his time at Corinthians.
“It was there that I met a man who changed my life and became like a second father to me – Professor Tite,” he writes. “I get emotional when I speak about Tite, because we are connected in a way that is about more than football.”
The pair had already parted company when Paulinho left for the English Premier League in 2013 to sign for Tottenham Hotspur, a move that did not work out leading to an offer from the CSL champions two years later.
Paulinho reveals that people questioned his decision to move to China, aged just 26, as “insane”.
He was unmoved, living by advice given to him by Brazil full-back Dani Alves when the midfielder was struggling.
“People said that my career was over when I went to Guangzhou Evergrande but ... well, when I was riding the bus in the Fourth Division in Brazil, nobody even knew who I was! I was in the grave, man. I was dead to the world.”
At Guangzhou Evergrande he would play under Luiz Felipe Scolari, the manager who won the 2002 World Cup for Brazil, and who picked him for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Paulinho would thrive under his countryman, winning the title twice and the AFC Champions League, scoring vital goals along the way.
“I was not dreaming about playing in another World Cup. I definitely was not dreaming of playing for Barcelona. My goal was simply to play good football, every day,” he writes of his time in China.
But he was recalled to the Brazil squad.
With his former mentor now in charge, Tite sent a scout to see how Paulinho was playing in China. The scout was his son Matheus, who nearly missed the match thanks to the Guangzhou traffic. Were it not for the quick-thinking of Paulinho’s wife to get a tuk-tuk, maybe the midfielder would not have played his part in helping Brazil qualify for Russia.
The media may have questioned his recall to the national team, but Paulinho’s performances, including a hat-trick in a comeback win against Uruguay in qualifiers won them over.
Now he is a key part of both the Barcelona and Brazil teams and after winning La Liga in his first season in Spain he is part of a side eyeing glory this summer.
Paulinho is calm about the prospect and all that has happened.
“In many ways, I feel like I am the same player I was when I went to the Super League. Going from China to Barcelona is incredible, but it’s not a miracle. It’s not life or death. It’s just football.”