From world-beater to fringe figure: Paulinho’s demise at Tottenham

Tottenham’s recent shift in focus has seen Mauricio Pochettino place an emphasis on locally sourced young players rather than the long-standing policy of recruiting foreign stars.

This has led to the emergence of the likes of new England internationals Harry Kane and Ryan Mason, but also meant a number of big-money acquisitions have found themselves as bench fodder at White Hart Lane this season.

Despite the disappointment of Érik Lamela, Roberto Soldado and others, Brazilian midfielder Paulinho has arguably been the biggest flop at Tottenham in recent times.

The box-to-box midfielder was in high demand back in the summer of 2013 and for good reason.

Having played an important role in former club Corinthians being crowned as Brazilian champions, Paulinho featured in the side that went on to win the Copa Libertadores and the Fifa Club World Club.

At the 2013 Confederations Cup on home soil, Brazil lifted the trophy in a World Cup dry run, with Paulinho being named the third best player in the competition and in the collective team of the tournament.

A transfer scramble was expected amongst European powerhouses to land the South American’s signature ahead of last season, with plenty of Spurs fans both impressed and excited by the news that their team had won the race at a cool price tag of £17 million.

However, like a number of his countrymen before him, Paulinho’s time in North London has simply not gone to plan, with the Brazilian now a source of irritation for the White Hart Lane faithful.

Last season under André Villas-Boas the 26-year-old was given the chance to play regularly and offered up a mixed bag.

From a positive perspective, his running off the ball saw the midfielder pop up in promising attacking positions with regularity, while he brought energy to the Spurs boiler room.

From a negative perspective, Paulinho was largely wasteful in front of goal when chances came his way, with a surprising weakness in the tackle also quickly being noticed by the Tottenham support.

Since the Portuguese coach’s dismissal, the Brazilian has been a fringe figure under firstly Tim Sherwood and now Pochettino, with his opportunity to play against Burnley on Sunday only his second Premier League start of the season.

The game at Turf Moor was largely forgettable as a contest, while it was probably the low point in Paulinho’s time in England.

PaulinhoThe South American was afforded the opportunity to play in the number ten role but offered little from an attacking sense, walking off the pitch after 90 dire minutes as a virtual bystander.

There is a significant chance that it will mark his final start in a Tottenham shirt, with an exit seeming increasingly likely this summer.

But where has it all gone wrong?

A player who has thrived at national level, played for Brazil 32 times and featured in a World Cup has looked completely out of his depth in England.

When Paulinho was at his best for the South American nation, it was largely as a defensive midfield enforcer alongside Luiz Gustavo in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

With the likes of Oscar and Neymar ahead of him to create and Gustavo the designated destroyer in the boiler room, the Spurs man fulfilled neither role and instead was involved in his side’s possession play and made late runs into the box from deep.

For Tottenham, Paulinho’s major problem has been that he has not fitted a midfield stereotype.

He has lacked the aggressiveness to be a defensive midfielder, with Nabil Bentaleb a more suitable exponent, and not showed the guile to be a playmaker either.

Like Gilberto, Sandro and Heurelho Gomes before him, Paulinho looks destined to be labelled as another failed Brazilian experiment at White Hart Lane, with a line set to be drawn under his time at the club this summer.

It is a shame that Paulinho has not shown his best form in the Premier League, with it appearing that Italian or Spanish football may well be a closer fit to his skillset.

Don’t be surprised to see the Brazilian prosper at his next club given his experience, but Paulinho and Tottenham has certainly not been a match made in heaven.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City.I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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