Once upon a time, Brazil just couldn’t produce box-to-box players. They had all the defensive stalwarts and creative attackers they needed, but they couldn’t marry the two disciplines in one player. Until now.
Seleção fans always looked on enviously as other nations produced the likes of England’s Steven Gerrard, Italy’s Daniele de Rossi and France’s Patrick Vieira. All players who could grab a game by the scruff of the neck and impose themselves on a game with a lung-busting run, a trademark screamer, or splitting a defence with a through ball. Equally, they could rescue their side with a barnstorming tackle or a goal-line clearance.
But now, the conveyor belt that is Brazil are finally coughing out the box-to-box stars that they always wanted. The latest to come off that production line is Corinthians’ Paulinho.
Eagle-eyed readers and football experts will recognise Paulinho as a member of the Corinthians side that outfought Chelsea to seize a 1-0 victory in the Club World Cup final last December.
The Brazilian midfielder played a crucial role in that goal as he brilliantly played a back-heeled pass in a one-two before laying off the ball to Danilo whose shot deflected off Gary Cahill before being tucked away by Paolo Guerrero for the winner.
The 24-year-old is proving to be something of a hot property this season as Serie A giants Inter showed when they approached Corinthians for the midfielder in January as a replacement for the outgoing Philippe Coutinho and Wesley Sneijder.
But the €17m-rated star snubbed a move in favour of staying with Corinthians for one more season and revealed the reason for the rejection in an interview with SportTV just a few days later.
Inter certainly made me an attractive offer but I said no to them because I was afraid. On the occasion, I was afraid to make a decision which I would have regretted later.
There is no doubt that Europe’s elite clubs will call once again in the summer transfer window and Paulinho will certainly find it much more difficult to turn down their advances this time.
José Paulo Bezerra Maciel Júnior, or Paulinho, spent his youth career at Audax São Paulo before being loaned out to Lithuanian club FC Vilnius as an 18-year-old. Another season-long loan spell followed in Poland with Lodski KS before making his debut in Brazil.
A break-out season at Audax saw him secure a move to Bragantino for one season before being catapulted into the big time with Corinthians at 22 years of age. This helps to explain why he is emerging at a later stage in his development.
So far at Corinthians, he has already won the league title as well as the Copa Libertadores and the FIFA Club World Cup a year later. As recognition of his achievements at club level, he was called up to Mano Menezes’ Seleção.
So far this season he has played in a struggling Corinthians side, having finished fifth in the Campeonato Paulista, part of the State Championships, but still within a chance of winning the crown as the campaign heads into the knockout stages.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
As mentioned previously, Paulinho is a very typical box-to-box midfielder. As comes with the territory, he has a penchant for surging runs from deep and supporting the attackers ahead of him. However, that does mean he needs to be paired with a defensive midfielder to bring out his full potential.
For Brazil, he has been paired with Ramires to the frustration of the Seleção supporters as the duo have failed to strike up an understanding of each other’s roles in the side. Interestingly enough, they were ruled out of Brazil’s recent friendly against Russia due to injury and Lazio’s Hernanes and Grêmio’s Fernando impressed in their place.
So his place in the Seleção isn’t necessarily a given. But Luiz Felipe Scolari could opt to pair the Corinthians star with Tottenham’s Sandro, when he returns from injury, or even Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva, should he regain his form.
And that’s where his strengths lie. Paired with a defensive midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 and he’ll excel. Equally, he could succeed in a midfield trio if he plays between the defensive midfielder and the attacking midfielder.
In Brazil, he has excelled in a two-man midfield alongside Ralf, making surging runs to great effect. In each of his seasons at Corinthians he broke the ten-goal barrier, giving him a strike-rate of 0.22, or one goal every five games.
However, he’s unlikely to keep up that level of goalscoring in Europe. Brazilian defences are notorious for gifting time and space to attackers and many egos are flattered in this respect.
On the other hand, his assist record isn’t the best. According to ESPN, he has contributed to just eight goals in his three years at the club. An average of 2.6 a season. So he isn’t going to be creating goals either.
But of course, statistics isn’t everything. His value lies in his ability to turn defence into attack, to support the more creative players ahead of him as well as provide a second defensive shield should the situation require it.
In truth, Paulinho is a very good box-to-box midfielder and could certainly become a very accomplished midfielder in Europe should the right move arise for him, but he isn’t a Steven Gerrard or a Patrick Vieira.
No doubt though, whoever should sign him, that they have an experienced midfielder ready to slot into the middle of a midfield trio or as part of a defensive midfield pairing.
What is striking about Paulinho is that he has already spent two seasons abroad, and appears rather uninterested in another such move. In an interview with Globoesporte, he revealed his motivations behind rejecting a move to Inter:
I received two offers from Inter Milan. I decided to stay because it wasn’t the right moment to go. The financial side was very good but I always place my career ahead of the money. Time will tell when it will be the right moment.
When a player wants a new challenge, he insists, but when he doesn’t want to go, he insists as well. The national team is one of the reasons why I stayed, as the manager had changed. If I had gone, it would have been a new beginning.
While there has been much interest in the dynamic midfielder from the likes from Premier League giants Manchester City and Chelsea, and Inter are also likely to return, Paulinho is happy in Brazil.
At the moment, Paulinho has everything he needs. A role as a key player in a side that will be pushing for the title this season, as well as a place in Scolari’s Seleção. He isn’t about to jeopardise all that on a move to Europe.
As Paulinho says, only if the right move arises will he move to Europe.
UPDATE: Paulinho joined Tottenham Hotspur.
This piece was written by Callum Fox. Follow him on twitter @cjfox21
Featured image via talksport.co.uk