Just over a year ago it was hard to imagine all that’s happened to Paulinho.
After his failure at Tottenham Hotspur and a subsequent transfer to Chinese football, the Brazilian was about as far from the spotlight as he could get, completely forgotten between the odd rumour linking him with a move home.
But his life has taken a dramatic turn. His journey of redemption beginning in September 2016 when he was a surprise inclusion in new coach Tite’s first Brazil squad. Having been nowhere near a single Brazil squad since World Cup 2014, unsurprisingly the watching press in Rio that afternoon were keen to hear an explanation.
"Paulinho speaks for himself... his career speaks for itself,” insisted Tite. “He is a Confederations Cup champion, he participated in the Club World Cup [of 2015], he deserves his spot, looking at current form too, not only his past.”
The media had endured a rocky relationship with combative former boss Dunga. Tite was charming, patient, attentive, and his willingness to engage intellectually had immediately won them back on side. The new coach, if not Paulinho himself, was given the benefit of the doubt.
Paulinho started Tite’s first game in charge, against Ecuador in Quito. And he played a hugely important role in shutting down Christian Noboa, who was so vital to Ecuador’s play. Still, Paulinho drew criticism from some quarters.
Brazil was yet to be convinced. Tite, however, who had coached Paulinho to the Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup in 2012 with Corinthians, was unwavering. Paulinho missed just one competitive match since and was through suspension.
With each game, Brazil’s no.8 has improved, shrugging aside any pressure he may have felt after so long away. The criticism stopped some time ago. Now he is universally recognised as one of the most important factors in Brazil’s total transformation under Tite.
Paulinho has brought experience and organisation the midfield. He chases back, and dashes forward from his shuttling role, grabbing both goals and assists.
He has also been decisive in important matches, like the clasicos versus both Argentina and Uruguay, where he netted his first career hat-trick against La Celeste at the famous Centenario.
Paulinho's performances also drew attention from elsewhere, earning him a €40 million move to Barcelona last month.
But without Tite acting as a shield, the midfielder arrived at Camp Nou once again facing criticism from a fanbase underwhelmed by his signing. With the club in something of an institutional crisis following the shock departure of Neymar, however, much of the supporters’ dissatisfaction had little to do with Paulinho personally.
And the script had already been written when, last weekend, Paulinho came off the bench with less than 15 minutes remaining to grab a hugely important winner in the 2-1 victory over Getafe. Lionel Messi’s embrace during the subsequent celebrations, meanwhile, provided an illustration that Paulinho had certainly won over his new colleague.
And on Tuesday night he was at it again, marking his first start for his new club by leaping to head home Barca’s second in the 6-1 demolition on Eibar. He also created his side’s third with an inventive dummy that released Messi, before laying Barca’s fifth as he played a quick one-two with the Argentinian.
Barcelona may yet come to depend on him just as much as Tite, who won’t be in Spain to protect Paulinho this season. Though it doesn’t look like he’ll need it. “He silenced his critics,” wrote Spanish daily AS. Paulinho speaks for himself.