From China to Barcelona and back again, inside Paulinho's stunning 22-goal season

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Paulinho Guangzhou Evergrande 2019
His move to Camp Nou left some mystified but Lionel Messi himself was a fan of the Brazilian midfielder, who has discovered the form of his career

Twenty two goals. Eight assists.  

Those are the sort of numbers you'd expect from a veteran striker, but in this case they belong to former Tottenham and Barcelona midfielder Paulinho. 

The Brazilian, despite turning 31 in July, has hit career-best form in front of goal while playing for Chinese Super League (CSL) side Guangzhou Evergrande. 

With 19 goals and six assists to his name in the domestic competition over the past year, Paulinho played a surprisingly pivotal role as Guangzhou claimed an eighth CSL title. 

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While deployed primarily in central midfield, the club captain regularly stepped up for his side in the final third and went on a seven-game league scoring run in July that saw him strike 10 times.

That stunning form saw Paulinho defy the odds to finish second in the CSL's golden boot standings, scoring more often than the competition's star strikers Graziano Pelle and Alex Teixeira. 

His incredible return in front of goal comes two years after a strange one-season stint with Barcelona, sandwiched between spells in China

While his short stay in Spain and subsequent return to Guangzhou certainly raised eyebrows, Paulinho issued a timely reminder of his talents. 

Paulinho Guangzhou Evergrande 2019

Incidentally, his unwavering form has its roots in some sage advice he received from fellow Brazilian Dani Alves.

"I live by something that Dani Alves once told me, when I was going through a difficult time in my life," Paulinho wrote in The Players Tribune

"He said, 'We are just kids playing in the rain, man. If it goes wrong, so what? Is it the end of the world? No, man. We’ll just go find somewhere else to play.'

"I’ve played football my entire life, all over the world, and the one thing I’ve learned is that the important thing is to enjoy your work. You have to go to sleep at night staring at the wall, thinking, 'Damn, I can’t wait for it to be morning so I can have the ball at my feet again!'

"You can only play your best football in these conditions." 

And based on Paulinho's form this past season, it appears he's certainly enjoying his football as he relishes the extra freedom Guangzhou's formation has granted him. 

While form and fortune have played their part in the Brazlian's goalscoring exploits, the man himself stressed his side's tactics have been key. 

"Actually, I think it's mainly due to the difference in the formation of our selection this season," he told Mingliao Sports

"In past seasons, we may have played more defenders, but no matter what combination we used this season, we had three midfielders in most games, so in this system I can have more degrees of freedom to go forward. 

"I think this year's tactics have helped me to score more goals."

Confidence has also inevitably played its part with Paulinho even adopting the catch cry of a previous Guangzhou captain. 

"The phrase 'have confidence' is a mantra of the club leader in the past," he said. "Before most matches, he would come to our dressing room to cheer. 

"The town arm also shouted the words 'have confidence' so this is where it came from. After winning the first championship in the Chinese League in 15 years, I had a celebration party in Beijing at that time. I was very excited and shouted this sentence to everyone.

"Slowly, this sentence became well known by many fans and friends, and it has become a very iconic personal mantra." 

Paulinho Brazil 2018

While many view moving to China as an early retirement for footballers, Paulinho has proved time and again his Asian adventure is anything but. 

Having first moved to Guangzhou in 2015 from Premier League side Tottenham, the midfielder was ridiculed for accepting such a transfer at the age of just 27. 

But by 2018, his gamble had paid off handsomely. Not only was Paulinho signed by Barcelona after being approached by Lionel Messi himself, but he also secured his spot at the 2018 World Cup. 

“People said that my career was over when I went to Guangzhou Evergrande..." he wrote in 2018.

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“I was not dreaming about playing in another World Cup. I definitely was not dreaming of playing for Barcelona. My goal was simply to play good football, every day.

"But seriously, if you think my transfer from Guangzhou to Barcelona is crazy, then you don’t know my whole story. That was just Chapter 10. My whole story is way more unreal." 

Having worked his way from the Brazilian fourth division to La Liga, Paulinho's football career has indeed been one wild ride and it's not one he's letting ease up any time soon.

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