By 90Min
November 23, 2017

The Chinese Super League. A place that of late has become somewhat of a graveyard for washed up footballers; a place where those whose skills are steadily declining jet off to in search of one last payday amidst next to no challenging competitive activity. 

Accomplished names such as Ramires, Hulk and Carlos Tevez have all upped sticks and travelled to China, the latter becoming the highest paid player in world football in doing so raking in an absurd £615k a week for Shanghai Shenhua, but Paulinho's path to Guangzhou Evergrande differed slightly from the aforementioned trio's.

Many, just like those previously mentioned, go to China after a fairly successful career in Europe having achieved some form of success in one of Europe's top divisions, but Paulinho had achieved next to nothing on the big stage when he decided to take the plunge. 

The 29-year-old had played a starring role in Corinthians' midfield at the beginning of this decade, with his performances earning him a move to the Premier League with Tottenham and a real platform to strut his stuff.

The midfielder's arrival in north London came at a time where Spurs were jubilant and ambitious following Gareth Bale's world record transfer to Real Madrid. An extra £85m had been injected into the coffers, and Andre Villas-Boas most certainly set about spending it. 

Roberto Soldado arrived for £26m. Erik Lamela arrived for £25.8m. Paulinho for £17m before them, and real excitement was oozing from the terraces as the Bale money was invested throughout the team. Instead, the transfers - specifically Paulinho's - resulted in the opposite emotions. 

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Soldado flopped and was shipped off back to Spain with Villarreal. Lamela flopped initially before Mauricio Pochettino revitalised him, but boy oh boy how Paulinho flopped. The Brazilian international in fact scored three goals in his first eight games in a Spurs shirt, including a last minute backheeled winner away at Cardiff, but gradually become a laughing stock in England for his below par performances and inability to adapt. 

Paulinho was voted as the worst player in the club's entire history by Spurs fans earlier this year, with many finding his tagline of 'The New Lampard' more laughable than at all credible. 

Some defining moments summed up the former Corinthians man's time at Spurs; the inexplicably terrible shot away to Burnley which left some contingents of the away support looking like they'd just witnessed a family member pass before their very eyes, or one attempt to trap the ball against Norwich which was so dire that it subsequently bounced up and hit him in the face. Needless to say, Paulinho failed to impress in his two years in England.

And so came about the move to China with Guangzhou Evergrande, where a confidence ridden Paulinho teamed up once again with Luiz Felipe Scolari, and in doing so practically announcing to the world that his days in the limelight were over. Many expected Paulinho's name to fizzle out into the footballing gutters, with the preconception that he was simply looking to pick up some quick cash in a league lacking universal respect, but how wrong they were. 

The highly criticised league that is so devoid of any accreditation for the players that do well there is a baptism of fire; perform well, have your achievements downplayed. Perform badly, and everyone's preconceptions are proved right. But Paulinho was excellent. 

At Guangzhou Evergrande, the confidence-shot Brazilian scored 25 goals in 95 appearances, with all of them impressively coming from midfield. Two Chinese Super League titles and an Asian Champions League were to show for Paulinho's time in China, but yet his credentials were still questioned. 

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"It's the Chinese League."

"The quality of football is terrible."

But it is harder than that. Much harder. Just ask Jackson Martinez, Guangzhou's record signing. The Colombian was signing for a record £31m and was expected to rip up a league so apparently lacking in quality, but to no avail. Martinez flopped, and Paulinho's form looked far more certified than before. The question is, where was this Paulinho in the Premier League? 

A leader, a fighter, a dictator of play, but a shell of himself in England. Perhaps the boy from São Paulo just needed an arm round the shoulder, something that he was not afforded by the likes of AVB, Tim Sherwood or Pochettino at Spurs, but very much so by Scolari in China. 

A friendly against Argentina foreshadowed what was to come for Paulinho, and emphasised the thought that a nourishing environment is needed to see the best Paulinho. Coming up against Lionel Messi, the five-time Balon d'Or winner strolled over to Paulinho as Willian set up to take a set piece, and simply uttered, "Come to Barcelona." The Guangzhou starlet replied, "If you want to take me, I'll go." And that was that. 

Paulinho has since thrived since arriving at the Nou Camp in a £36m deal, rather surprisingly in fact after the transfer was initially met with disapproval all around Catalonia, but those who doubted have been made to eat their words.

Maybe all a player needs is a bit of love. Maybe it's just that feeling of belonging and being wanted. Whatever it is, Paulinho has stumbled upon it at just the right time. The 29-year-old has finally found himself in football, and long may it continue. 

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