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 By Dan Fitch
Jul 30, 2014

Paulinho still an enigma for Spurs

If I had a wish for this past World Cup, it wouldn't have been to see England's Steven Gerrard lifting the trophy at the end of the tournament (it was a mere wish, remember, not a full-blown miracle).

No, what I wanted to happen was just for the benefit of Tottenham, rather than that of my fellow countrymen. I simply wanted Paulinho to have a great tournament for Brazil.

As we all know my wish came nowhere close to coming true, but back at the start of the competition it didn't sound so unrealistic. Paulinho was a vital member of a Brazilian side that went into the tournament as hosts and were fresh off an impressive victory at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

My hope was that he'd put his disappointing debut season at Spurs behind him and would look rejuvenated back on home turf. After all, one of the chief reasons Paulinho struggled in England was the fact he'd hardly put in a tackle after picking up an injury over the Christmas period. He certainly looked like a player with his mind firmly set on the World Cup.

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Had Paulinho shone like I had hoped, he would have either returned to White Hart Lane on a high, or been snapped up by another club. To be honest I was hoping for the latter. If you could get your money back on a player who has proved a disappointment in his first season and has often been guilty of a lack of commitment, then it would have been very tempting to cash in.

It's easy to forget how positive everyone was when Paulinho signed for the club. It's been many years since Tottenham had a central midfielder capable of scoring goals on a regular basis and Paulinho looked like he could be that man. Here was a true box-to-box midfielder with the ability to ghost into the box unmarked. Paulinho was a clinical finisher, good in the air and a regular in a successful Brazilian team. What could go wrong?

Injuries and subpar performances plagued Paulinho's debut season at Tottenham.
Injuries and subpar performances plagued Paulinho's debut season at Tottenham.

The problem was that Paulinho was signed with no clear plan as to how he would fit into the Spurs side. Too often he was paired in a midfield duo alongside a player who, like him, was not truly defensively inclined. This robbed Paulinho of his freedom to get forward, as both he and his partner erred on the side of caution and sat tight.

In the last game of the season against Aston Villa, then-manager Tim Sherwood brought Sandro back from a spell on the sidelines to play alongside Paulinho. The difference was plain to see, as Sandro protected the back four, leaving Paulinho able to concentrate on what he does best. It resulted in one of his best games for Tottenham, with the midfielder scoring the first goal in a 3-0 win.

Another issue when Paulinho played was a lack of creativity from deep positions. His passing range is pretty basic, which is a criticism that could also be applied to the likes of Mousa Dembele and Sandro. More creative talents such as Christian Eriksen were shifted out wide, while the likes of Tom Carroll and Lewis Holtby were sent on loan. As a result, Spurs were left with a central midfield without much guile or skill.

One can only speculate as to what the new season holds for Paulinho. Tottenham are overladen with central midfielders and with new boss Mauricio Pochettino keen to bring Morgan Schneiderlin to the club, some will have to go. Even if the signing of Schneiderlin doesn't come off, Spurs could easily allow two or three midfielders to leave.

Paulinho has been linked with a transfer this summer, with Juventus rumoured to be interested. The fact a club of such standing should be mentioned alongside Paulinho's name is testimony to his reputation as a player, despite the disappointments of the past 12 months.

If he stays, then Pochettino must resuscitate a career in danger of stagnation. This is well within the manager's grasp. Look at how he turned around the careers of Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Schneiderlin.

Yet patience -- not a virtue that the White Hart Lane crowd are renowned for -- could be required. After his exploits in the Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup with Brazilian side Corinthians, followed by two consecutive summer tournaments with Brazil and a move to a new country and league, Paulinho has had a lot on his plate for a long time now. Perhaps a rest would do him good, but a spell on the sidelines would only increase the speculation regarding his future and put more pressure on him when he did appear.

There are no clear answers here, only confusion and possibilities. In every way Paulinho remains that particular specialty of Tottenham Hotspur: a real enigma.

Dan Fitch

Dan Fitch is a freelance journalist and the founder of TottenhamBlog. A regular at White Hart Lane, he writes about Spurs for ESPN and football in general for Bleacher Report. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DJFitch.