It’s fair to say that not every Barcelona fan was delighted when their club forked out €40 million (Dh176.3m) this summer to secure the signing of Paulinho.
A 29-year-old arriving from the Chinese Super League who previously flopped at Tottenham was not exactly what Blaugrana fans had in mind to rejuvenate their midfield, and Paulinho was subjected to more than his fair share of criticism when the deal was confirmed.
Just a few weeks later, however, the Brazilian international has already succeeded in changing quite a few minds and given a clear indication that he could well, after all, make a significant contribution.
After coming off the bench to score a crucial winner at Getafe last Saturday, Paulinho was handed his first start for Tuesday night’s visit of Eibar and, although the game was chiefly notable for Lionel Messi’s latest burst of genius, he didn’t let anyone down.
Firstly, Paulinho showed off his set piece prowess by netting for the second consecutive game with a thumping header direct from Denis Suarez’s corner.
And he really came to life in the second half, contributing amply to Barca’s destruction of the Basque visitors by assisting one of Messi’s goals and helping to create Denis Suarez’s strike with a cheeky nutmeg for Messi to run onto.
2 – Paulinho has scored two goals for Barcelona with his first two shots on target (all competitions). Impact.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 19, 2017
Indeed, even more than Paulinho’s goals, the most encouraging thing about his performance was the way he seems to be quickly developing an understanding with Messi, who appears to be enjoying the opportunity to benefit from the powerful runs of a muscular midfielder whose skill set is starkly different to any of his team-mates.
However, before we get carried away and hail Paulinho as Barca’s saviour, we should also acknowledge the other side of the coin – as did manager Ernesto Valverde after Tuesday’s game, when he admitted Paulinho had looked “lost” in a first half dominated in large part by Eibar.
The truth is that Paulinho only started to shine after the break, when Eibar started to tire both mentally and physically, and therefore allowed big spaces to appear for the Brazilian to surge into.
Not many of Barca’s games will be played out in such an open fashion. The majority will be far more tentative affairs, with space at a premium against opponents who defend the edge of their penalty area rather than allowing the game to be played in the whole pitch as Eibar did.
And in this aspect of the game, as Valverde noted, the jury is still out on Paulinho, who was conspicuous by his absence rather than a shining star during his side’s troubles during the first half.
Paulinho in LaLiga for Barcelona:
3 aerial duels won
Proving his worth. 👊 pic.twitter.com/TJJMrypnED
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 20, 2017
It’s eternally hard to escape the impression that Paulinho is in many ways antithetical to a Barcelona midfielder.
Whereas the team’s recent greatness was built around the slender frames but flawless techniques of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who turned the ability to maintain possession in confined areas into an art form, Paulinho is the exact opposite with his barnstorming runs and thumping headers.
Of course, that’s exactly why he has been signed – because he possesses attributes that nobody else in the squad has.
But in the same way the team will have to adapt to Paulinho, he will also have to adapt to the team. And although he’s made a very good start – better than anyone expected – much more difficult tests lie in wait.