When Tottenham announced the signing of the highly regarded Paulinho from Club World Cup winners Corinthians for £17million in 2013, there was astonishment that Spurs had managed to beat off bigger teams for the Brazilian international's signature.
In 86 games for the South American giants, 'Little Paul' had scored 20 goals and won the Brazilian Serie A title, the Sao Paulo state championship, the Copa Libertadores (South American's Champions League) and the FIFA Club World Cup. He was named in the Brazil squad for the 2013 Confederations Cup, picking up a winners medal and the Bronze Ball for third best player of the competition.
With Gareth Bale's transfer money, Paulinho was the first transfer record purchase for Spurs that summer, swiftly followed by Roberto Soldado and then Erik Lamela. All three have struggled for top form but Paulinho has arguably struggled more than most.
Another let down
Thursday night's match against Fiorentina at White Hart Lane was a chance for Paulinho to firmly cement his place in head coach Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham squad for 2015 and beyond. Despite six changes, this was still a strong Spurs side which started the match on the front foot.
Paulinho started the game alongside midfield regular Nabil Bentaleb. The Algerian's role in the side seems to be that of defensive cover and deep playmaking, with his partner afforded more license to get forward into dangerous areas - something one would think was ideally suited to Paulinho.
At first, the number 8 started well, just like Spurs. Paulinho does not possess wonderful technique, as shown by a stumbling first touch when played into the penalty area by Kyle Walker, but he does get up and down the pitch well. With Christian Eriksen ahead of him, Paulinho's job was to win the ball quickly, give it to a team mate, then get forward. For the first half an hour it was asolid 2 out of 3, and given the speed of the home side's attacks it was no shame that Paulinho could not always get into the box to capitalise on the many crosses coming in.
Paulinho was given responsibility for set pieces and it was from his corner that Soldado swept home on six minutes. That the midfielder was allowed to take the dead ball plays ahead of Eriksen demonstrated the faith given to him by his manager.
However, as Fiorentina grabbed a foothold in the game the more Paulinho wilted. Sure, he still covered a lot of ground but too often Bentaleb was isolated in the middle of the park and the visitors cut through the Spurs midfield with the same confidence and speed as Spurs had done to them in the first half.
Despite having four attackers ahead of him, Paulinho continued to make runs forward but no longer had the capacity to get back quickly enough. When Spurs were building up the play, Paulinho reverted back to his bad habit of literally taking the ball of a centre back's toes, hesitating with his forward pass, and ultimately slowing Tottenham's attacks to a crawl.
Just not good enough
Turning 27 this July, the future does not look any kinder to Paulinho than the recent past. Finishing his second year with Spurs, having made 45 starts and 18 sub appearances, there could be no more claims of acclimatising to the English game. If Paulinho is not up to the physical demands of the Premier League, he never will be.
He clearly lacks the playmaking instincts, energy or defensive knowledge to play as one of two traditional centre midfielders, does not have the flair or pace to play as a wide attacking midfielder, and is a long way behind the technical abilities of an Eriksen to play behind the front man.
Not the attacking midfielder Spurs need
His best performances in North London have come as the attacking midfielder, given license to burst into the box but not the demands of getting back to stop counter attacks. However, he lacks the ability of Eriksen to change a game by himself, nor the physicality of Kane or Dembele to bully defenders, nor the pace of Townsend or Chadli to simply beat them in a foot race.
When the team is playing well, Paulinho can surf the wave. When the wave crashes, the Brazilian is one of the first to go under. If Pochettino had his way and managed to sign Morgan Schnederlin, then Paulinho may have already gone.
Come the summer, the inevitable will surely happen. Paulinho will be moved on, either back to Brazil or to Italy, to a league which is slower, which will suit his bursts forward and his slow tracks back, where he can be given plenty of time to pick out a team mate, before popping up in the box.
The only thing that will stop a move will be Tottenham's desire to avoid losing too much money on the Brazilian. It looks highly unlikely that they will reclaim their £17million outlay, especially since Brazilian clubs have been handicapped with the removal of third party ownership. Paulinho is two years older but none the better.
He, with others, will forever be a folly of the summer of 2013. A signing that Spurs ultimately did not need - Eriksen was a more needed signing, and in Ryan Mason and Bentaleb Tottenham already had better players at their disposal.
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