Following their now historic 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semi-finals, Brazil’s 2014 World Cup team has been dubbed the worst Selecao side of all time. Then again, if you compare it to England’s 2014 squad, statistically our worst in World Cup history after exiting the tournament with just two goals and one point in the group stages, the Brazilians have little to be moaning about.
But for a nation that maintains the entrenched belief that it’s unique style of football is something purer than that of its European counterparts, there were certainly an abnormally high number of ordinary footballers representing Verde-Amarela.
One of which, by no means the most ordinary but equally by no means one of Brazil’s world-class alumni reincarnated, was Tottenham’s Paulinho.
At last summer’s Confederations Cup, many were impressed with the 25 year-old. Although somewhat passive in style, his mixture of power, stamina, quality in possession and the ability score goals by making late, well-timed runs, gave the South Americans vital balance and extra cutting edge from the middle of the park.
Fast forward one year – one average Premier League campaign later – and Paulinho appeared a shadow of his former self at the World Cup. That passive box-to-box, ghosting style devolved into rarely doing anything constructive or influential; rather shockingly, the central midfielder averaged just 19 passes per match from his six World Cup outings – that’s only two more than maligned-into-retirement striker Fred.
Indeed, having taken just seven shots, made only four key passes, completed no more than four successful dribbles and committed himself to a mere nine tackles for the tournament throughout, Paulinho’s contribution at the World Cup was perhaps the least of any player in Phil Scolari’s squad – something I (and I’m sure you too) had already suspected before mulling over the stats.
Yet rather bizarrely, admirers of Paulinho are not hard to find. Along with Tottenham, he had been on the radars of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City for some time, Inter Milan were often linked too, and after arriving at White Hart Lane for a £17million fee, it took only until the January window for a surprise switch to Real Madrid to mooted in the tabloids. Even now, after the midfielder’s poor World Cup campaign, the Telegraph claim he’s been lined up as Arturo Vidal’s successor at Juventus.
So my question is simply this – after a disastrous, abject World Cup, should Spurs cash-in Paulinho?
Not that I’m suggesting six appearances, albeit on the most testing and revealing stage of all, should dictate Tottenham’s summer transfer plans, or determine the fate of a player who was signed only last summer in a then-club record deal.
But along with Paulinho’s World Cup escapades, I found his first season in England equally revealing. Decent in patches – on occasion the difference between three points and one – and the only midfielder in Tottenham’s entire squad that appeared prepared to commit himself forward in support of Roberto Soldado. Yet overall the lingering concern persisted that the 25 year-old is a poor fit for the Premier League.
Not in physique or athleticism, the usual intrinsic curse suffered by the Premier League’s foreign imports; Paulinho is six foot tall, broad shouldered and relatively quick for a central midfielder. Likewise, six goals and two assists from the middle of the park is decent output that not every Premiership side was privy to last season.
But it’s in attitude and the application of his skills where the Brazil international falls short. The Premier League is a rigorous division but most importantly it’s dynamic – whether running, dribbling, passing or shooting, the ball must be moving forward and possession must be progressive. This is not a live-or-die rule, however it is certainly the custom; English football has become too good at the pressing game for more cultured, lesser-paced styles to truly succeed. That is not always necessarily the case in La Liga or Serie A.
Paulinho in contrast, although industrious in defence and intelligent going forward, isn’t the kind of midfielder who can force the issue. The majority of his passes are sideways, backwards or return balls and his ability to join attacks late seemingly depends on a whole games-worth of thinking first. The Premier League is too instinctive, too fast paced, to pick and choose your moments like that.
Likewise, just as at the World Cup, it felt on many occasions last season that Paulinho’s ghostly style became an excuse to let games pass him by, as if by merely occupying space and taking the occasional shot at goal he was somehow doing the Lilywhites an intrinsic service.
Paulinho is by no means a bad player and in my opinion was put into a difficult situation at the World Cup. Following a domestic campaign that can be described as lukewarm at best, Phil Scolari certainly had other options in the middle of the park and should have utilised them after the group stages, when it has become abundantly clear that the Tottenham midfielder wasn’t in good form.
But it did highlight that despite his many suitors, the 25 year-old is not a world-beater or the kind of player who will take Tottenham to a higher level.
Perhaps another season in the Premier League will fare Paulinho differently – after all, he has spent the last five years plying his trade in a different continent and is clearly still adapting to the European game. But whilst the Brazilian could become a star of La Liga or Serie A, or at least emerge as one of its more notable individuals, he will never far exceed the norm in England. His talents will never be complimented by the Premier League brand.
With that in mind and Juventus reportedly prepared to pay £20million for the Brazilian – a £3million mark-up on Tottenham’s investment last summer and a figure I’m sure Daniel Levy can increase upon negotiations – the timing feels right to cash-in.