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If you asked a Tottenham Hotspur fan in the summer of 2015 where they would see Paulinho in two years time, the answer would probably not be playing in Europe, let alone at a club competing for La Liga and the Champions League.

Yet the Brazilian midfielder is a Barcelona transfer target, much to the bemusement of many Premier League fans.

Normally when players go to the Chinese Super League – Paulinho is at Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Guangzhou Evergrande – you don’t expect to hear too much of them again, unless you’ve got an interest in football in the Far East.

But Paulinho is proving people wrong.

Disappointing at Tottenham

The midfielder arrived in North London with high expectations placed on his shoulders.

He joined from Corinthians, where he scored 34 goals in 167 games, for a fee of just under £17million.

When he joined, former Arsenal midfielder Edu told BBC Sport: “Paulinho is a very professional guy, he’s very focused in training and in matches.

“He’s a guy that likes to win, he doesn’t like to lose.

Conte's Views On China | S01 E03 | FWTV by FootballWhispers

“He always fights very hard to be in a good position in the table.

“He scores so many important goals and as a player, he’s box to box easily, it’s very difficult to find a player with his characteristics and what he has.”

When he arrived in 2013 at White Hart Lane, he was a Real Madrid transfer target and his arrival was a real coup.

Yet just two years later, Daniel Levy, famed for his fierce negotiating, was even prepared to accept a £7million loss on him at a time when Chinese clubs are generally regarded to be overspending.

He had started just three times in the Premier League that season and was behind the likes of Mousa Dembélé, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb in the middle of the pitch during Mauricio Pochettino’s first season at Spurs.

In the more advanced role, Christian Eriksen had made the position his own.

Looking back on his time at White Hart Lane, Paulinho told : “Pochettino arrived and I did not play much.

“I only played a maximum of four matches in my preferred role and sometimes as a No.10.

“Pochettino had his options and at that time he thought I was not the best option for him.

“But I do think that if he gave me the opportunity in my role then I would have convinced him.”

Reborn in China

While it may not have worked out for Paulinho in the Premier League, a move to China has really revitalised his career, despite many assuming that the move was akin to an early retirement.

While the fees Chinese Super League clubs pay for players may seem extortionate, it’s fair to say Guangzhou Evergrande got a bargain in Paulinho.

The move to the Far East saw him link up with manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, who had picked him for Brazil's 2014 World Cup squad.

Guangzhou had won four titles in a row when Paulinho arrived, and he’s since helped them to their fifth and sixth, playing a crucial role.

Scolari made him central to his plans, attempting to implement a Brazilian feel into his side.

That was evident if you see that Guangzhou’s foreign players who finished the season at the club were all Brazilian: Paulinho, Robinho, Elkeson and Ricardo Goulart, while compatriot Alan Carvalho was returned to the allocation in 2016 after injury.

He has 26 goals in his 90 games for the club, the best return of his career.

The 28-year-old has been so impressive that he forced his way back into the Brazil reckoning for their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, starting seven of their eight games so far – the only one he missed was through suspension.

Of course China is not as strong a league as England or Spain, but Paulinho has definitely used it to get himself back on track.

But it also isn’t as weak as perceptions may believe.

Scolari believes Paulinho is proof of that too.

“Paulinho was not in the national team list, but he fought his way back,” he said.

“That is why I am very proud of the Chinese Super League.

“You see Paulinho, Renato Augusto and Gil have all gone back to the national team, so it is wrong to say that the CSL is for players who have come to the end of their career.

“The CSL showed it is competitive and it is able to give players the chance to play for their country again.”

Barcelona bound?

Saying Barcelona were after a midfielder who had started most of Brazil’s recent games, and had scored a hat-trick against Uruguay would really not be a surprise.

And they do seem to have made him a key target this summer.

The player himself is keen on a move, telling Mundo Deportivo: “When I knew of their interest, I was on cloud nine, thinking about whether it could be true or not.

Then the proposal arrived and it snapped me out of the dream and made me very happy.”

Barcelona’s midfield three has followed a similar path for several years now, with Sergio Busquets in the holding midfield role as the tough tackler, protector of the defence, providing simple but effective control of the ball.

Then comes the creative force behind the attack – Andrés Iniesta and Ivan Rakitić, with André Gomes disappointing and Denis Suárez merely a backup.

Iniesta isn’t getting younger and it’s clear Barcelona need a midfielder and Paulinho fits the mould.

Paulinho player card

He’ll go box to box and he will surely get goals – and perhaps the pressure will be off as he’s not the big name like Marco Verratti.

What’s more, there’s a Brazilian contingent at the club in Neymar, Rafinha and Marlon Santos.

When Barcelona want their man, they seem to get him.

But they are finding it hard with Guangzhou, with their president refusing to negotiate.

“Regarding Paulinho, there is nothing to discuss until the end of the season,” said Xu Jianyin.

“We completely understand his feelings, however we hope he can understand the club's situation.

“We can't just let a core player go in the middle of a tough season.

“Now we are halfway through the season and, although we need to consider our financial situation, we also need to take the team's situation into account.

“It is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Paulinho and there has been lots of attention on it.

“However, in midseason it is impossible, we can't let things like this happen.”

While he may not want it to happen, if Paulinho wants the move, it will surely eventually happen, and it will be interesting to see how he does at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Indeed, the move could lead to a changing of opinion on players moving to China and whether or not that is the end of their career at the top level of football.

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