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A lot of column inches have been dedicated to trying to understand Chinese football, the rapid growth it’s currently undertaking and just what it means for the power balance in world football.

The answer to those questions won't be known for many years, but what Paulinho’s transfer from Chinese heavyweight Guangzhou Evergrande to Spanish giants Barcelona shows is that moving to the Middle Kingdom isn’t a career dead end, not unless you want it to be.

From the moment he landed in Guangzhou, Paulinho has dedicated himself to the cause and has been instrumental in the ongoing success of Guangzhou Evergrande. His partnership with Zheng Zhi in midfield powered Guangzhou to their second continental title in 2015 and has helped maintained their dominance in the domestic league, with Evergrande on course for a seventh straight league title.

You only had to watch Paulinho play in Guangzhou’s now-famous red shirt to see he wasn’t just in China for the pay cheque. The emotion written all over his face when he scored showed it meant something to him. You can’t fake that. It may not have been at the heights he’d played previously, but the effort he put in was no less than he will give when he steps out on the Camp Nou.

Compare and contrast that to another famous South American who now calls China home, and who also recently left China but for very different reasons – Carlos Tevez.

Tevez’s move to Shanghai Shenhua from Boca Juniors was one of the biggest in the arms race that was the Chinese transfer window, which has since quietened down since the CFA’s reforms, but his time in Shanghai has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster and it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one when his contract is torn up and he returns to Argentina.

Like Paulinho, Tevez, who is struggling with a calf injury, also left China this week, granted a leave pass by Shenhua to return to Argentina. While he insists he will be back, signing an agreement that he would return by 30 August, that remains up in the air. It’s quite clear from his output this year that he’ll be in no hurry to return.

Certainly he was in no hurry to move to China in the first place. Not only did he openly admit he didn’t really want to leave Boca Juniors in the first place, he also delayed his arrival in Shanghai, with the club forced to claim there had been a “miscommunication” with Tevez’s management.

Right from the get go it looked like a marriage that was headed for a quick divorce.

Cynics and critics will be quick to pounce on Tevez’s exit, using it to suit their own agendas, but the move was never the right one in the first place. This was inevitable.

Unlike Paulinho, Tevez has never really committed himself to Shanghai Shenhua. That was he photographed strolling through Shanghai Disneyland on match day, when he was sidelined with an injury, set alarm bells ringing. Video that went viral of him just walking around the pitch as the match goes on around him demonstrated that he just doesn’t care.

While there can be no doubt that players move to China for the money on offer, what Tevez’s failure shows is that no matter how good you are, or how good you think you are, you still have to put in the hard yards. The league, while not at the top European level, is still of a decent standard and those not putting in will quickly be found out.

Those who are willing to commit, however, will have success.

Football Today recently interviewed Shanghai SIPG star Elkeson, a former teammate of Paulinho’s at Guangzhou Evergrande, and one of the best foreign players to have played in China over the last five years.

During the interview we asked him what the secret to his success was, given other more credentialed players had failed to fire a shot when moving to China. His answer was illuminating.

“I don't believe there is a secret,” he said. “I believe that a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and a lot of desire to win will help you achieve your goals.

“Since I decided to sign my transfer to Shanghai, I’ve worked hard every day to become stronger and to evolve as a person and as a professional. Everything I’ve achieved here in China I’ve earned by my sweat and I still want to win a lot of things in this country.”

In that regard the Chinese Super League is no different to any other league in the world. You still have to work hard and you still have to give 100%. As the old saying goes, you only get out what you put in.

Paulinho and Tevez are the perfect examples of that. Paulinho has rescued his career, returned to the national team and sealed a move to the world’s biggest club.

Tevez? Well, the less said the better.


Categories: Opinion | Asia

paulinho, carlos tevez, guangzhou evergrande, fc barcelona, chinese super league

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