The Paulinho case is one of those oddities that happen in football every once in a while. Barca signed him for 40 million euros from China’s Guangzhou Evergrande last year, and less than a year later, he has been sold back to the same Chinese club for 50 million. It was a profitable operation, but Valverde, who only found out about the resale on the radio, is clearly annoyed as was very satisfied with the Brazilian.
Last year, Paulinho arrived from China fit and firing, and, although he did not fit the Barca style, he made up for it in many other ways. He scored nine goals and worked hard up and down the pitch, he did not make a fuss, he behaved well with his teammates and with the club, and he has left as quietly as he arrived.
So, what was the trick behind all of this? Barcelona have not explained. Perhaps he needed to leave China in order to get a call up for the World Cup. Maybe it was a shady deal for the benefit of the Chinese club’s accounts. Whatever it was, the fact is now he has gone, and Valverde is searching for another top midfielder. They have signed Malcolm, who in terms of position and style of play, is similar to Dembélé. He is satisfied with striker Coutinho, who proved his worth at the World Cup. Although he has a daunting task ahead of him as Iniesta’s departure now puts the spotlight shining on him.
So, what about midfield? One option is Rabiot of PSG, but we already saw what happened to Barca when they tried to poach Verratti from Paris: they lost Neymar because of it in an act of retaliation by PSG’s owner. Around the Parisian club, they must tread carefully.
Then there is De Jong, who is perhaps the most likely option. But Ajax have gone four consecutive years without a Dutch league title, which, by their standards, is a catastrophe. Their fans would revolt if they sold their young star.
There is also Thiago, who left Barcelona for Bayern Munich – perhaps too cheaply, as Barca had failed give him the minimum number of games required to raise his release clause. But sporting director Pep Segura is of the line that those who leave never return. So in short, there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution for Valverde to resolve Paulinho and Iniesta’s departures, which leaves him frustrated.