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‘Iron Man’ Paulinho ploughs on in China

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Brazil’s Paulinho (C) has found a new lease of life at China’s Guangzhou Evergrande, where fans have given him the nickname ‘Iron Man’ © AFP/File / KAZUHIRO NOGI

SHANGHAI, China, Aug 16 Barcelona fans were delighted that he left and at Tottenham Hotspur they called him lazy, but Brazil’s Paulinho is on a punishing run of matches that has earned him the nickname “Iron Man” in China.

The international midfielder re-signed for Guangzhou Evergrande from Barcelona last month after Brazil’s World Cup ended and was pressed immediately into action because, unlike in Europe, the Chinese season was midway through.

Combining games for Barcelona, Brazil and now Guangzhou, the 30-year-old best known in China as “Violent Bird” — a nod to how his name is pronounced in Chinese and his style of play — has racked up 69 games in the past year and had no off-season.

By comparison, fellow Brazilian international midfielder Renato Augusto at Chinese Super League (CSL) rivals Beijing Guoan has played less than 40 matches over the same period, according to the football data tracker transfermarkt.com.

Both featured at the World Cup in Russia, but Paulinho played through the winter and spring as Barcelona won the Spanish league and Copa del Rey, while Augusto and the CSL were on a break.

While many players in Europe were able to put their feet up after Russia, Paulinho jetted back to China on loan from Barcelona and made his second Guangzhou debut just 11 days after Brazil were knocked out of the World Cup by Belgium in the quarter-finals.

Little wonder that Paulinho enjoys the kind of adulation in China that he never had at Tottenham, where he had an unremarkable stint in 2013-2015, or at Barcelona.

– ‘Violent Bird can still fly’ –

After arriving back in China to a hero’s welcome at the airport, Paulinho made light of the number of games he has played since August last year.

“I am actually in a very good physical condition and I believe that the coaching staff knows how to use me (sensibly),” he said.

He has gone on to play every minute of the six games that Fabio Cannavaro’s Guangzhou have had in the past month, scoring five times and earning another nickname in Chinese media: “Iron Man.”

Along with another new signing, his fellow Brazilian Talisca, who is on loan from Benfica, they have almost single-handedly helped rescue Guangzhou’s season — and kept Cannavaro in his job.

Paulinho again played all 90 minutes on Wednesday as the reigning seven-time CSL champions thrashed Henan Jianye 5-0 away to leave Guangzhou fourth in the table, six points off leaders Beijing Guoan but with a game in hand.

After bringing up a century of games for Guangzhou, one sports commentator wrote online: “Violent Bird — 526 days, 100 matches — can still fly.”

Paulinho’s gruelling schedule is a reflection of the problem that Chinese football faces in a World Cup year.

The CSL season runs from March to November, bringing it into direct conflict with the summer World Cup.

The CSL took a two-month break for the tournament and now is squeezing in games to make up for lost time.

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