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May 8, 2014

Paulinho is on autopilot as season ends

On Wednesday, Brazilian manager Luiz Felipe Scolari named his 23-man squad for the World Cup. Among Scolari's eight midfielders was Tottenham's very own Paulinho, who has been an ever-present in his national side since Brazil won the Confederations Cup last year.

The mismatch between Paulinho's form for Brazil and for Spurs couldn't be more marked. His eagerness to get out of the way of Stewart Downing's free kick to give West Ham a two-goal lead last weekend was symptomatic of his now total disengagement.

Many South American footballers struggle in their first season in the Premier League, and Paulinho has been no exception. After a hesitant start, he appeared to be settling in as an influential presence in midfield before picking up a nasty injury from a typically late Charlie Adam challenge against Stoke in December.

Since his return in February, Paulinho has given every impression of wishing he were anywhere else but on a football field.

It's tempting to blame Spurs for their failure to get the best out of their 17 million-pound signing from Sao Paulo. Andre Villas-Boas, the manager who brought him to the club, was sacked within months of his arrival, and his replacement, Tim Sherwood, never had the confidence of the board -- let alone the players.

But that only tells half the story. Part of the deal of being a well-paid professional footballer is that you have to fit into squads and systems that you don't necessarily like and have to work with managers who don't understand or appreciate your strengths and style of play.

These are qualities in which Paulinho is significantly lacking. All six of Spurs' summer signings have struggled to find any form -- a sure indication of the malaise within the club -- but only the Brazilian has consistently looked as if he isn't trying.

This may be just unfortunate; he could have been crying himself to sleep every night over his inability to find his best form. He certainly should have been. But I rather think not. When your quickest and most probing move of the day is the run to the subs' bench midway through the second half, as it was for Paulinho at Upton Park on Saturday, then it's fair to assume you just aren't that bothered.

Maybe the club isn't that bothered. Paulinho may have been the worst offender for total lack of effort but he was far from the only one, and for some weeks now Spurs have had little to play for. But the club should be bothered. As should the players.

When fans are paying good money -- a seat behind the goal at Upton Park last week cost 52 pounds -- a local derby should be a matter of pride. There was little evidence of it on display. If Sherwood didn't give the whole team the hairdryer treatment at the end of the game, he missed an important trick.

While it's seldom in a club's interest to alienate their players, it's never right to give them an easy ride. Paulinho -- and several others -- need to be told that their performances this season have been unacceptably poor and that a great deal more will be expected of them next season.

What's more, if they aren't happy, then they can go. Paulinho may have been linked with a move to Chelsea, but that is just agent talk. No top club would be willing to take a punt on the Brazilian on his form so far -- regardless of how good a World Cup he might have. Paulinho failed in Poland in 2007 -- being forced to retreat back to South America with his tail between his legs -- and he's done nothing at Spurs to suggest he has acquired the mental strength to succeed in Europe.

It's traditional at the final home game of the season for supporters to stay behind at the end of the game to applaud the players on their lap of honour. I'd suggest this is a tradition Spurs might break on Sunday. The players could just be traipsing around an empty stadium.