MADRID (AP) Brazil midfielder Paulinho wasn’t greeted with the warmest of welcomes when he arrived in Barcelona.
Fans made it clear they were not too thrilled to see the club spend 40 million euros ($48 million) on a defensive midfielder who was playing in the Chinese league.
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They were expecting a blockbuster signing after Neymar’s departure and ended up getting a player they knew very little about.
Paulinho didn’t have any links to the club’s youth academy and his style apparently didn’t suit the team’s traditional ball-possession game.
A video of Paulinho struggling to juggle the ball during his presentation at Camp Nou Stadium didn’t help, going viral and igniting even more criticism against the player and the club.
But things have changed quickly in favor of the low-key, hard-working Brazilian.
After five Spanish league games, Paulinho has done enough to mollify the critics.
He has two goals, including a late winner against Getafe last weekend, and showed some of the prowess that led him to success in Brazil and made him an indisputable starter for his national team.
He thrived after coming off the bench in his first four matches, and eventually earned a start on Tuesday against Eibar.
“I’m happy with how things have gone for me,” Paulinho said. “I’m glad that I’m playing well, it helps me get adapted to the club. I’m playing alongside some great players and they have all been supporting me a lot.”
The 29-year-old Paulinho has added versatility to the midfield. He is solid as a defensive midfielder but also excels with attacking runs that often surprise defenders.
That’s how he scored the decisive goal in the 2-1 win against Getafe, making a run between defenders and entering the area to fire a firm shot into the far corner. His second goal was a header in a 6-1 rout of Eibar.
“He will end up being a cheap signing,” Brazil teammate and former Barcelona player Dani Alves said.
Paulinho has a lot more presence in the area than some of the team’s other midfielders, including Ivan Rakitic and even Andres Iniesta.
It was this that made Paulinho a key player in the Corinthians team that won Club World Cup in 2012. His success with the Brazilian club prompted a move in 2013 to Tottenham, where he disappointed in his two seasons before moving to Guangzhou Evergrande.
Paulinho, who signed a four-year contract with Barcelona, said he had regained his confidence while playing in China. And his good performances with Brazil also helped.
“He gives us a lot of versatility. He can help us in many different ways,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.
Barcelona’s next game is on Saturday at Girona. The Catalan club has won its first five Spanish league games and has a two-point lead over second-place Sevilla.
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