Forward | Bayer Leverkusen | Brazil
A product of Vasco da Gama’s illustrious academy, Bayer Leverkusen forward Paulinho can count the likes of Romario and Juninho Pernambucano as fellow members of the alumni of which he is part of.
Still, despite the obvious comparisons exciting Brazilian youngsters attract with their more established countryman when they come to European shores, as well as the fact he shares his name with a former Barcelona and Tottenham man, the Rio de Janeiro-born attacker is very much his own man.
Having made his league debut for his hometown club at the tender age of 16 and bagging a brace on his first full start, the versatile forward has certainly shown an ability to rise to every challenge thrown at him in his short career thus far. Part of the Brazil U17 group who won the South American Championship in 2017, 2018 was supposed to be his breakout year.
2018 has been
At the start of the year, Paulinho made history in his continent’s biggest competition when he scored against Chilean side Universidad de Concepción in a Copa Libertadores second-round qualifying tie back in February, becoming the first player born in the 2000s to do so in that competition.
Indeed, that effort came just a week after he recorded his first assist in the first leg of that tie, so he played a massive part in pulling his side through into the next round. Such a contribution was then followed up with another goal against Bolivian outfit Club Jorge Wilstermann that same month, before Vasco started to struggle.
Crashing out in the group stages, Paulinho ended his first Copa Libertadores campaign with two goals and two assists in six games, a more than respectable tally for a burgeoning youngster and the kind of form he’d have been hoping to take into the league campaign.
However, not long after Vasco’s premature end to their Libertadores efforts, their sparkling attacker suffered a fracture arm prior to the Brazilian Serie A season kicking off in April.
After making such a good start to life in the domestic competition during 2016/17, that was a real blow to a player who’d started to make his mark on a continental stage.
Still, the aforementioned arm ailment didn’t stop German giants Bayer Leverkusen from parting with the best part of €20m to bring him to Europe. Die Werkself certainly have a strong history in developing South American talent into top players in one of Europe’s traditional five big leagues, having done so with the likes of Arturo Vidal and Ze Roberto, so the move made total sense.
Citing inspiration from Cristiano Ronaldo upon his move to Europe, Paulinho is still finding his way on the eastern bank of the Rhine. Thus far, he’s made 10 appearances without a goal or assist in what’s been a difficult season for Heiko Herrlich’s side, meaning 2018 will fizzle out slightly after starting so bright.
With an injury largely impacting his last days in Brazil and a big move to Europe always going to take some adapting to, the future still looks bright for Paulinho. While recognition at international level looks a way off now, he is part of an exciting generation for the Selecao, alongside Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, so the years to come look as if they’ll be exciting.
Indeed, if he can get back on the kind of momentum he enjoyed at the start of 2018 prior to his injury, 2019 looks very exciting.