2018 22under22 Countdown – #19: Paulinho


“Paulinho will be a brilliant footballer in world football” – Zé Ricardo, Vasco manager

Date of Birth: July 15, 2000 (17 years old)
Nationality: Brazilian
Position: Forward/Attacking Midfielder
Club Appearances: 35 (7 goals, 6 assists)
International Appearances: 0
EiF Ability Rating: 55.5

*EiF Ability Rating is a representation of a combination of the player’s current ability and potential ability. It is determined by multiple rounds of voting, and then an addition of the scores given by each judge. The maximum score a player can have is 80.

Paulo Henrique Sampaio Filho, commonly referred to as Paulinho, is arguably the best young talent in Brazilian football. Alongside Santos’ Rodrygo and Flamengo’s Vinicius Jr., there’s no other yong player in the country that comes close to these three players in terms of talent and upside. No, I’m not forgetting Flamengo’s Lucas Paquetá – he’s a fantastic player and has been superb this season, but I don’t believe his upside and pure talent is as high as the aforementioned players.

Paulinho might not have the raw pace that Rodrygo and Vinicius have, or the agility to turn in a split second when dribbling the ball or trying to get past an opponent, but he still has more than enough pace to make it on the European stage. Unlike his compatriots, he actually has a physique that is much more ready for Europe; Paulinho is physically strong and has a bit of a stocky build, meaning he doesn’t have to put on any extra muscle like Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr. have to when they move to the Old Continent. His aforementioned good, but not terrific, pace might mean he will never be someone who can play out on the wing. Luckily for him, that shouldn’t be a problem as his versatility is one of the strongest parts of his game.

Although he can play on the wing, it’s not his primary nor his best position. Rather, I think Paulinho is someone who can strive in a number 10 role or as a second striker, both positions which he’s played in for Vasco and the Brazil National Team’s youth sides before. It’s often said that if a player is versatile, it simply means he’s a “jack of all trades but master of none.” These players are usually used to fill in gaps their team has but are never the star man in a sole position. With Paulinho, this couldn’t be further from the case. The young Brazilian prodigy can excel anywhere across the front line.

Having made his debut for Vasco’s senior team in the 2017 Brasileirão, Paulinho quickly showed why so many rated him so highly in the youth ranks of Vasco and Brazil’s National Team. The good performances piled on and in 2018 everything came together for Paulinho, as he almost single-handedly led a subpar Vasco through the Libertadores qualifiers and into the group stages of the competition. Sadly, his incredible early season form was cut short by a horrific arm injury, which sidelined him for four months and will only see him return to the pitch late summer.

Luckily for Paulinho and for European football fans who haven’t had too many chances to see him play outside of YouTube highlights, his displays for Vasco in late 2017 and in the first half of 2018 were so impressive that he has already agreed to a move to Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen. While this means Vasco fans will unfortunately not have the privilege of watching him put on their jersey again before his move (due to the injury), they will certainly be happy to see their man make the move to football’s biggest stage. Leverkusen might not be the flashiest club, especially considering the tremendous potential Paulinho has, but in reality it’s a much better move than Vinicius Jr. to Real Madrid. While Vinicius is unlikely to see the pitch for the foreseeable future once he gets to Madrid (unless he goes out on loan), Paulinho has put himself in a position where he will expect to be a starter every game and will get to play in European competition (Europa League). Paulinho could one day be a Ballon d’Or candidate and is poised to be one of his generation’s great players.