Head­liner Paulinho

Brazil­ian’s move demon­strates the rise of the Chinese Su­per League

World Soccer - - Contents -

Guangzhou Ever­grande may al­ready be miss­ing Paulinho but even fans of the Chinese Su­per League cham­pi­ons see that the Brazil­ian’s move to Barcelona marks a sig­nif­i­cant step in recog­ni­tion for the coun­try’s do­mes­tic club scene.

Not that they wanted to sell him. “Guangzhou Ever­grande Foot­ball Club re­main res­o­lute in our trans­fer plan of Paulinho,” read a club state­ment in July. “We will never sell him mid-sea­son.”

Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur fol­low­ers may have been sur­prised when Barca paid 40m for a player who strug­gled in Lon­don from 2013 to 2015, but the 29-yearold’s trans­fer was well re­ceived in China.

“Be­cause Paulinho has come here and done ever so well, now he has a trans­fer to one of the big­gest clubs in the world,” says An­dre Vil­las-Boas, Shang­hai SIPG coach and once boss of Spurs.

“I think it shows that the big clubs are also look­ing at our league. It’s a re­flec­tion of the play­ers and the qual­ity of work that is be­ing done here.”

This echoes sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments ex­pressed by play­ers and coaches around the league. The coun­try’s pres­i­dent, Xi Jin­ping, must also have al­lowed him­self a smile of sat­is­fac­tion, hav­ing made it clear that he wants China to be­come a pow­er­house in foot­ball.

So the sight of one of the big­gest clubs in the world hav­ing to pay big money – around three times what Guangzhou Ever­grande paid Spurs 26 months ear­lier – to a Chinese team was warmly wel­comed, as was Paulinho’s good­bye ges­ture of giv­ing away a car to the team’s sup­port­ers.

There was also some sat­is­fac­tion among ri­val fans that the club that started the spend­ing spree in 2010, hoover­ing up the best do­mes­tic play­ers and win­ning the league ev­ery year since, were be­ing re­lieved of their best player.

Paulinho has been the best player in China, and prob­a­bly even all of Asia, over the past two years. A re­turn of 25 goals in 95 games does not tell the full story of how in­flu­en­tial he was, giv­ing Luiz Felipe Sco­lari’s team au­thor­ity and power in the mid­dle and a pres­ence, of­ten ar­riv­ing late, in the op­po­si­tion penalty area.

He helped the side to two Chinese Su­per League ti­tles and vic­tory in the 2015 Asian Cham­pi­ons League. When he left, the team were clear at the top of the ta­ble in China and in the last eight of the Cham­pi­ons League, al­though a week after his de­par­ture they lost 4-0 to Shang­hai SIPG in the first leg of their quar­ter-fi­nal. He was badly missed and Guangzhou Ever­grande do not have a re­place­ment.

As good as Paulinho has been in China, his greatest as­sist could come off the pitch. The Chinese Su­per League has money but not yet the world­wide re­spect it craves. Play­ers who go there are of­ten de­rided for a lack of am­bi­tion, yet Paulinho has shown that this is no semi-re­tire­ment home.

Hav­ing not rep­re­sented his coun­try since the 2014 World Cup, Paulinho was called-up again in 2016 after Brazil’s in­con­sis­tent start to qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the 2018 tour­na­ment. The Sele­cao won their next eight games – he missed one through sus­pen­sion – and be­came the first team to reach Rus­sia.

Ex­cel­lent through­out the cam­paign, his high point came in March when, a goal down in Uruguay, he scored a hat-trick to se­cure vic­tory.

Paulinho has been lin­ing up in mid­field for his coun­try along­side Re­nato Au­gusto of Bei­jing Guoan, and to have a Chi­ne­se­based Brazil­ian mid­field would have been in­con­ceiv­able un­til very re­cently.

If Brazil can have suc­cess with a Chinese mid­field and Paulinho can re­build a ca­reer to go to the very pin­na­cle of the Euro­pean game then, per­haps, the Chinese Su­per League is not that bad after all and per­haps money is not the temp­ta­tion.

Paulinho did plenty in his 26 months in China but his big­gest achieve­ment may be yet to come. Barcelona will cer­tainly have a few more fans in China, will­ing the Brazil­ian on.

“It shows that the big clubs are also look­ing at our league. It’s a re­flec­tion of the play­ers and the qual­ity of work that is be­ing done here” Shang­hai SIPG coach An­dre Vil­las-Boas on Paulinho’s move to Europe

Nou boy...Paulinho

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