Opinion

Paulinho shows Mooy that China is no retirement home

Aaron Mooy and Paulinho Source: Getty Images

It has been classed as a retirement home and a place where ageing players go to make some money, but China offers so much more than that.

It can be a fascinating and rewarding country in which to play football, as Aaron Mooy, who left Brighton and Hove Albion for Shanghai SIPG last week, will likely find out.

There have been numerous players who went to the Chinese Super League since the big spending started, failed to settle in and left with an impressive pay packet.

Carlos Tevez is a big name who stands out for the wrong reasons.

There are opportunities though for those who approach it in the right way.

There have also been plenty of foreign players who have come to China and seen the bigger picture.

They realise that there is work for them to do: not just to score the goals or find the pass but to become role models, to make a difference.

Now, Mooy can help contribute to the development of Chinese football, to take a leadership role and help inspire young players.

Mooy doesn’t need the talent of his new teammate Oscar or the explosiveness of Hulk in order to do so, it is about discipline, motivation, determination and all the rest.

The best example is Paulinho. In June 2015, he signed for Guangzhou Evergrande. The Brazilian midfielder was not at a good place in his career.

He was out of the national team and had appeared in that infamous 7-1 FIFA World Cup loss to Germany a year earlier.

He had also just finished a difficult second season with Tottenham Hotspur.

Fans in north London had been excited to see the star arrive but it just didn’t work. He was labelled, rightly or wrongly but perhaps eternally, as a ‘flop’ by the English media.

As far as many were concerned then, the move to China was just another famous player choosing the easy life and hard cash. Paulinho proved everybody wrong.

In his time with Guangzhou, he has been consistently excellent. He has been the best import in the league and could lay claim to being the best import playing in Asia during the time.

He has been a driving force in the southern city, scoring spectacular goals, winning domestic and continental titles and becoming a talisman of what is perhaps the biggest club in Asian football.

Off the field, he has impressed too. Officials at the club pay tribute to the way he trains and makes time for younger members of the squad. He sees his role almost as much of a mentor as a midfielder.

The rewards have come in China but also elsewhere. His excellent form earned him a recall to the national team when Brazil were struggling in qualification for the 2018 World Cup.

In 2016, Paulinho came in and was immense. With him in the team, the Selecao won all eight of their next games and the highlight came with a 4-1 win in Uruguay when their Chinese-based star bagged a memorable hat-trick.

It helped to secure a transfer to Barcelona in 2017 for a fee more than three times Guangzhou paid.

It was a big deal for the player. Paulinho may not have set the Nou Camp alight but did show that he was a player that should not be judged by an uncertain Premier League spell.

It was a big deal for Chinese football too. If a player can restore and improve a tarnished reputation in the Middle Kingdom to earn a recall to one of the best national teams in the world, and a transfer to one of the best clubs in the world, then the league has come a long way.

Mooy is not likely to be heading to Barcelona or Liverpool in a couple of years, but China is far from a retirement home.

You get out what you put in and for those with the right mindset, it can be an incredibly rewarding place to be - on and off the pitch.