In the Summer of 2015 Paulinho left Tottenham to move to Guangzhou Evergrande in China for £9.8m linking up with his ex-international coach with Brazil, Luis Filipe Scolari.
His time at Spurs had been mixed, arriving in 2013 for £17m from Corinthians and was an initial success however in the 2014/15 season he only made 15 appearances with 3 starts so when China came calling it was only natural for him to say thank you and goodbye to North London before hopping on a plane.
For many this was seen as giving up, chasing the money rather than staying and fighting for his place or even staying within Europe and reviving his career here, but it has turned out to be quite the opposite. Paulinho has thrived in China, returning eight goals form 30 appearances in his first season with Guangzhou and going on to regain his spot in the Brazilian national team, even scoring a hat-trick against Uruguay, so his time in China has only been a success.
Such a success that this Summer, Barcelona have come knocking for his services. Now a year ago Guangzhou probably would’ve said yes straight away – he has a £35m release clause in his contract – and the fact that it is that low shows that he probably never had any real intention of being out there for the rest of his career. However, new rules implemented by the Chinese Football Association have complicated things. In order to curb the reckless spending of clubs in China, they now have a 100% tax on foreign signings, so if they paid £20m for someone it would cost them £40m overall.
Therefore, if Guangzhou were to let him go they would need to bring in another foreign player in order to keep up the popularity of football in the city, but this would cost them an absolute fortune and would seriously dent their budget for this year. They are already paying Jackson Martinez an absolute fortune after they paid £32m for him from Atletico Madrid back in 2014 so they may have to keep Paulinho purely because they can’t afford a replacement. But just how realistic are the chances of him going to Barcelona?
Their number one target is Marco Veratti from PSG, they know that Iniesta isn’t getting any younger and there are question marks as to whether Rakitic is really the player they need right now, the Italian in Paris is seen as the natural successor but PSG are unwilling to sell, yet they would be for the right price.
Barcelona are showing the French giants that they will not be bullied and are fully prepared to move on to a different target if PSG refuse to budge on their asking price, believed to be around £60m. So maybe Guangzhou won’t have to make that decision after all but if they do and they allow Paulinho to leave it goes to show that China isn’t the footballing graveyard people believe it might be.
But how did China get to how they are today? It started in 2013 when fresh off taking the winning penalty for Chelsea in the Champions League final, Didier Drogba left to go to Shanghai Shenhua, followed swiftly by Nicolas Anelka, and since then the signings have become even more high profile.
Backed financially by the Chinese state their footballing teams have hoovered up talent from Europe including Ramires, Alex Teixeira who turned down Liverpool to go to China, Jackson Martinez, Hulk, Oscar etc…
They want to end the dominance over the game that Europe currently holds and rather than wait for players to come to the end of their careers; like the MLS, they want to get them in their prime. This is what they have done – 5 of the top 6 transfers in 2016 were to Chinese clubs – that really speaks volumes.
Admittedly with this 100% tax it will make things harder but Chinese ambition has not been curbed. They have stated that they want 50m citizens playing by 2020 and they want to have hosted and won a World Cup by 2050. Make no mistake, the Chinese have made their mark, and they are certainly here to stay.
Written by Olly Norman.