Barcelona and Brazil star Paulinho’s Guangzhou Evergrande return ensures he’s the talk of the summer for the second season running
The 29-year-old made a shock big-money return to the Chinese champions after impressing for Brazil at the World Cup
If people are confused by Real Madrid turning on a profit on a 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s another La Liga side that has people questioning everything they thought they knew about football.
While Paulinho is only 29 – for the next few days at least – his move from Barcelona back to China (and at a profit) is a head-scratcher.
It was only 11 months ago that everyone was questioning his arrival at the Camp Nou.
At that time, the Brazilian’s move from Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande was seen as a damning indictment of Barcelona’s transfer policy.
Here was a 29-year-old who had committed career suicide, or the very least faked his own death to start again, by moving to China at 26.
Further to that, his last taste of European top flight football was at Tottenham Hotspur when the English Premier League side were not even the stylish underachievers they have become under Mauricio Pochettino.
He was bad in a bad Spurs side then admitted defeat by chasing the Chinese money, and this was meant to be the player one of the biggest clubs in the world needed?
While opinions were united on that, they differed on the reason such a deal had come about.
Some fans groups alleged that Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu, the man in charge of transfers at the Catalan club, might have been protecting his personal business interests in China through the Paulinho deal.
His company lawyers moved swiftly to quell the rumours but they did not fully go away, nor did the fans’ fury at the Bartomeu’s transfer policy and the lack of big names in a summer where they lost Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain.
The president said that the player was identified by the team’s technical staff but still fans were unhappy with what they saw as a puzzling purchase.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 8, 2018
Paulinho called the move a “dream” but it swiftly turned to a nightmare as his unveiling was the stuff of viral infamy. The big Brazilian did nothing to inspire confidence in the fans of his new club as he failed to string together more than a handful of keepy-ups on the Camp Nou pitch.
But Paulinho got his head down. He played, and he played well. Very well, in fact.
By the time the first Clasico came around in December, broadcast at a time so that fans of his former club could watch during the evening in Asia, Paulinho was a starter.
He was also the top-scoring midfielder in the league, a league many view as the best in the world at least for the technical quality of its players.
This remarkable run carried on after Christmas with Barcelona’s baffling Brazilian playing 49 games for the club and scoring 14 goals as the team romped to the Primera Liga title by 14 points.
Incredibly, Paulinho never finished on the losing side in the league while at the club.
Brazil boss Tite, Paulinho’s former mentor at Corinthians, picked him for Russia 2018. If there was any questioning of picking Paulinho while he was in China, there could be none after he performed at Barcelona. The five-time world champions misfired but Paulinho added to his own reputation, scoring against Serbia.
As Brazil came to terms with the loss against Belgium in the quarter-finals, the talk from the player himself was of a couple of offers – one from China and another from Europe.
Within 48 hours, Evergrande had announced his return.
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) July 11, 2018
The discussions that Paulinho had said he would be having with his representatives clearly did not take long. Maybe it was a no-brainer. On the face of it, the deal suits everyone.
He leaves as the third-most expensive outgoing transfer in Barcelona history. Only Neymar and Luis Figo are above him while fellow Brazilians Ronaldinho and Ronaldo brought in less money to the club – and a €10 million (US$11.7 million, HK$91.8 million) profit in 11 months is good business.
The Chinese champions get a player that is a known quantity in the league, one that doesn’t need time to bed in or acclimatise with life in China – and they are still clearing a profit based on what they originally paid Spurs and then sold him to Spain for.
Meanwhile, the player is reported to have doubled his last wage at the CSL club.
Win-win-win. But it all happened so fast and surely the offer of another European team was worth considering, if it ever existed, or was this deal already in place.
We’ll never know why Barcelona really bought Paulinho or why, when he proved himself, they then sold him, but for a player about to turn 30 maybe the return to China makes sense.
He has offered hope to the other foreigners who followed him to the CSL and harbour dreams of playing again at the highest level.
But we can be sure questions will be asked of whoever is brave enough to go back West – and the clubs brave enough to by them.