Nobody is laughing at Paulinho now. Eyebrows were raised in the summer when Barcelona paid €40 million for a midfielder who had flopped at Spurs and appeared to be playing out the final years of an unfulfilled career in China. But he has been a superb signing.
Having missed out on their top target Marco Verratti, Barca turned their attentions to Paulinho. At almost 29 and not seemingly suited to the club’s style of play, his arrival proved unpopular in the Catalan capital.
To make matters worse, he was unveiled just after a painful 5-1 aggregate loss to fierce rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa. And failure to control the ball in the customary kick-ups on the pitch brought more mockery as supporters called for president Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign.
No Paulinho shirts were sold during his presentation, either, while only around 2,000 had bothered to show up at all. But the player himself said: “You have to face challenges with courage. I will try to do my job and I am prepared. Coming here is a dream. It’s a very satisfying moment. I will give everything.”
And to be fair to the Brazilian, he has made it work so far. The former Tottenham midfielder has hit eight goals, all of them in La Liga, and has become an important part of Ernesto Valverde’s squad since signing in August.
The first of those goals, a late winner at Getafe to turn around a hard-fought match after he had only been on the pitch for a matter of minutes, brought belief and his affable personality has also seen him become a popular player in the dressing room – particularly with the other South Americans.
His most recent strike came in an important victory at Real Sociedad, where Barca have consistently struggled in recent years, and Saturday’s win over Eibar saw him set a new record in La Liga, becoming the first player ever to avoid defeat in his first 23 matches in the competition.
Much of that is down to Barca’s fine form this season, of course, but Paulinho has definitely played his part – even if some question marks remain about his involvement in the team’s play. That can still improve and the goals have certainly gone some way to masking a deficiency in his overall contribution.
Largely, however, the move has been extremely positive and with midfielders like Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic not really prolific in front of goal, Barca have definitely benefited from the Brazilian’s ability to take up scoring positions and convert chances, as well as his physical presence.
“I value him very positively,” Valverde said last month in an interview with Barca TV. “He is a player who, when he arrived, it seemed there were certain doubts about him. He is a player who isn’t the same style as others in the team, who are more specialists in positional play.
“He is something else. He moves differently, he gets in the area by surprise and he is so effective because he has a lot of faith. He combines well with [Leo] Messi and Luis [Suarez] in the final metres.”
All of that is true. And on Tuesday night, Paulinho will return to a Premier League ground for the first time since his underwhelming Spurs exit in 2015, though this time he will be met with respect by a Chelsea coaching staff well aware of the danger he can cause. Nobody will be laughing in England any more.