The Brazilian had been met by great skepticism among the Camp Nou faithful, as he had been playing in China after an unsuccessful spell in Europe with Tottenham Hotspur.
He came on as a sub and made one of his trademark driving runs, received a pass from Lionel Messi, and charged in with his physicality, dispatching a shot past a helpless keeper.
Cules were ecstatic, perhaps none more so than the Barcelona board. According to a report in Diario SPORT, the ones present at the match were incredibly happy. They pointed to Robert Fernandez, the sporting director who was under pressure after a tumultuous summer transfer window, in celebration.
Paulinho’s critics may not be fully convinced yet after just one goal, but it has changed the narrative surrounding him, at least for the moment.
Perhaps they made a miscalculation in excoriating him to such a degree even before he had played a match for the Blaugrana. The result was expectations were set so low that scoring a winning goal is now being seen as either a miracle or proof that they didn’t know what they were talking about at all.
Paulinho starts for the Brazilian national team, after all. Sure, the international game is different than the club game. But Brazil are still one of the top teams in the world, and it’s hard to think anyone would become an automatic starter for them at this point, or score a hat trick away to Uruguay, and be completely without merit.
The criticism of the signing is fair if you steer away from hyperbole. Paulinho cost 40 million, still not exactly a pittance even in this crazy market. He’s 29 and on a long deal that could see him become unsellable when he declines.
He needs to be judged by the barometer of a 40-million-euro player, not by the barometer set by Twitter memes that suggest he’s totally useless.
Barcelona needed a long term midfield starter to replace Andres Iniesta, or one that would immediately challenge Ivan Rakitic. Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho was in the first category, Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti in the other. Neither came.
Instead, you have Paulinho, and likely Rakitic and Iniesta still starting for the foreseeable future. That’s something everyone knows was not what Barça needed this offseason.
Still, Paulinho is here and not just to collect a paycheck. He’s not so poor we should expect him never to score, obviously. In fact, he can be useful, as he has already shown. And he deserves fans’ support, just like any other player.
His limitations still are what they are. It’s best not to go overboard, though - in either direction.