After a 2011 in which Paulinho received his first call-up to Brazil’s senior squad and won the hearts of Corinthians’ passionate faithful with his influential displays in their hard-fought domestic title success, the player must have wondered just how things could get any better. Yet in the case of one of Brazilian football’s rising stars, he did just that in 2012 – helping O Timão to a first ever Copa Libertadores triumph and in the process continuing to gain the confidence of national boss Mano Menezes.
Not that things have come easily to the 24-year-old midfielder. Indeed, Paulinho has required patience aplenty and the bravery to make difficult decisions and career moves that have taken him to Eastern Europe and Brazil’s lower leagues before earning his big break.
“Of course it’s really hard to take all this in. It’s been a really rapid rise, from an individual point of view as well,” he told FIFA.com. “So I have to make the most of this good period. Of course for that I’ll need the help of the whole [Corinthians] squad, while I’ll keep working hard for my team-mates too, trying to help us win more titles as well as keeping my place in A Seleção.”
Choosing a path
Paulinho describes himself as a very decisive person who, once his choice is made, follows it through to the very end. Perhaps the first major decision in his fledgling football career came as a teenager, when he divided his time between the 11-a-side and futsal teams of Sao Paulo-state outfit Portuguesa. Fine while the two disciplines’ operated on different timetables, once a clash emerged the young Paulinho had to decide – opting, as you might have guessed, for the outdoor game.
The midfielder went on to join the youth ranks at Audax Sao Paulo before, shortly after signing pro forms at the club, taking a drastic change of course towards Lithuania at the tender age of 17. There he spent the 2006/07 campaign at now-defunct capital side FC Vilnius, making 38 appearances before another switch, this time to Poland’s LKS Lodz where he played during the 2007/08 campaign.
It has all happened so fast. I just hope things continue in the same vein.
“I had plenty of new experiences, as I was still really young and facing a different culture and a different, more physical, style of football,” revealed Paulinho. “I just had to adapt, simple as that, but in 2008 I decided to return to Brazil and try and establish myself back there.”
It proved to be another crucial decision. On his return Paulinho rejoined Audax, still a long way down Brazil’s footballing hierarchy. “I had to forget all about Europe, the money and everything else, and just start again from scratch, trusting in my own ability. Thank God I was happy,” he said.
In 2008 he won the Paulista fourth-division title, paving the way for a move to Bragantino, at the time in the Sao Paulo top flight and the National Serie B. It was an opportunity to go up against some of the country’s top sides and prove his worth, which he duly did.
On the up
Offers from interested clubs began to appear in 2010, but Paulinho would only consider a move to Corinthians. This was despite the fact that O Timão already had a wealth of options in central midfield, including Elias, Jucilei – two players also on the rise, but more highly regarded – Marcelo Mattos and Ralf, who today is his partner in the middle of the park. “What convinced me was the immense standing of the club and its fans, who always impress you. I wanted to sign for Corinthians regardless of whether I was in the first team or not.”
It was to be another astute move on the player’s part. No sooner had he joined the club than he was given a baptism of fire by coach Mano Menezes in a knock-out tie against Flamengo. And though it would be a bittersweet debut for the newcomer with his side crashing out, it has been onwards and upwards ever since.
By 2011 he was an undisputed starter for the club, forming one of the most effective midfield partnerships in Brazil alongside Ralf. His aggressive and direct playing style, which has generated plenty of interest from Europe’s top sides, is a key element of current coach Tite’s game plan.
With such a well-drilled and organised side, it was not long before the titles began to arrive. “The team’s determination to fight for every competition we play in, while remaining humble and ambitious, is what sets us apart,” he said.
With his side also possessing a winning mentality, it is hard to see how things could be better right now for the player, who is adored by the club’s fans, highly valued, and rated by the critics. Yet there is plenty more for Paulinho and Co to achieve, starting with a certain FIFA Club World Cup this December in Japan.
The player ended our interview with a fervent wish for the future, saying: “It has all happened so fast. I just hope things continue in the same vein.”