Paulinho has played for Brazil since September 2011 when he was first called up by Mano Menezes, his former coach at Corinthians. Since then, the midfielder has taken on an important role in the squad with a frequent, if not guaranteed, place in the team. And yet, before the FIFA Confederations Cup, if you had asked fans from outside the country, "Have you heard of Paulinho?", the most common reaction would have been a shrug. Naturally.
Naturally, first of all, because Paulinho has played most of his club football in his home country, apart from two adventure-packed seasons in Lithuanian and Polish football whilst still very young. Also, because the 24-year-old is a man of very few words. A retiring type, he comes confidently into his own on the pitch, where over the past couple of weeks the world has found out that this Corinthian is one of the most rounded players imaginable. "I honestly didn’t know him," Uruguayan Edinson Cavani told FIFA.com, after his country's 2-1 defeat by Brazil at the Mineirao stadium. "But I had seen some highlights where he seemed to be a real threat up front. And when a holding player does that for Brazil, he’s obviously a top-quality player."
Unfortunately for Cavani, Paulinho chose Wednesday’s semi-final to show just how decisive he can be. The defensive midfielder delivered a masterful pass to Neymar, resulting in the first goal for Brazil, before heading in the second, just four minutes before the final whistle. "It really is one of my qualities, moving into different areas of the field, picking up opponents as well as helping attack," he told FIFA.com. "I try to help in every possible way and I’ll try to keep on doing that, both for my club and the national side, because that's how I've always had success."
In fact, heading winning goals in the dying minutes of a match is nothing new for the Tottenham Hotspur target, as Corinthians fans will testify. Three minutes from the end of their side's 2012 Copa Libertadores quarter-final second leg against Vasco da Gama at the Pacaembu stadium, up popped Paulinho to nod home the only goal of the tie. "I hadn't thought of that, but the truth is that it feels similar. If I can help the team like that, as I have before, I'll be happy."
A lot of people in South America took note of Paulinho after that goal, recognising an all-round midfielder who can not only chase down opponents and steal the ball, but also lead counter-attacks and even finish them off in style, as he did for Brazil's second against Japan in the opening match. "It’s incredibly valuable to have someone like that in your side. Especially when the team is getting along together as well as ours is," David Luiz told FIFA.com about the man who is currently attracting a lot of interest from top sides in Europe, particularly in the Premier League. "If he gets to play in England, he will definitely go far. His game fits perfectly with the pace of English football," added the Chelsea defender.
So the secret is out. It took a while, but right now the name Paulinho is just like the man on the pitch: everywhere.