After an initial season of transition to move away from Harry Redknapp's tactics, Andre Villas-Boas has powered up the Tottenham engine room another notch with the signing of Paulinho. Jon Holmes considers the potential impact of Spurs' new arrival.
By Jon Holmes - @jonboy79
Last Updated: 06/07/13 11:58am
Rate the central core of any Premier League team and it's not long before you're remembering the benchmark standard set by Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit in the late 1990s. In the first of Petit's three seasons at Arsenal, the creative-destructive duo claimed a double before heading back to their homeland to put the World Cup to rights as well.
Even though the Gunners failed to retain their crown in 1998-99, the pair were arguably even better in that campaign and both were picked for the PFA Team of the Year. Manchester United's Roy Keane and Paul Scholes are the main rivals to the Frenchmen when considering the greatest midfield partnership of the last 20-odd years, but it's arguably the Petit-Vieira axis that's referenced the most.
However, consistent two-man combos are much rarer these days. Squad rotation is the norm, and with three attackers favoured in the forward line, there has to be more flexibility in formations. Can any current top-flight team dominate the centre to the extent that Petit and Vieira did? In a swing across the north of the capital, Tottenham are emerging as the most likely candidates - and it could be a trio that we're admiring.
Until he sustained a serious knee injury at QPR early in 2013, Sandro wasn't far off Gareth Bale and Jan Vertonghen in making the most telling contribution to the Tottenham cause last season. "The beast is hurt", he tweeted at the time, and every Spurs fan felt the blow. In addition, the muscle injuries suffered by Mousa Dembele - who had looked on his way to becoming the "complete midfielder" - further impacted on dreams of a Champions League return. For when Sandro and Dembele had played alongside each other, such as in the memorable 3-2 win at Manchester United in late September, they had looked in near-perfect harmony. Fitness permitting, they give outstanding balance to Andre Villas-Boas' side - Sandro's strength and intuition to intercept, coupled with Dembele's dribbling ability and tackling prowess.
Enter Paulinho into the equation, and the prospects for an uncrackable midfield code look even greater. Having played a starring role in Brazil's Confederations Cup victory, the 24-year-old expects to head to White Hart Lane for a fee in the region of £17million. With Corinthians, Paulinho has won the domestic title, the Copa Libertadores and the FIFA Club World Cup. And with him on board, Villas-Boas will be minded to complete Spurs' switch to 4-3-3, which he preferred to play at Porto.
He'll certainly bring more pressing into the Spurs midfield, and athleticism too. He's a physical threat at set pieces, liable to out-jump defenders and place accurate headers on goal, as he demonstrated late in the semi-final against Uruguay. But Paulinho's displays at the Confederations Cup also showed us his quick-thinking. After muscling out Sergio Busquets in midfield early on in the final, he dug out a sensational 30-yard chip which very nearly caught out Iker Casillas. The control and finish for his goal against Japan showed an acute sense of marksmanship (he averages a goal every four or five games for Corinthians). And his exquisite floated ball into the box for Neymar, which led to Fred's opener against Uruguay, underlined the extent of his passing range.
Improvisation, finishing, long-distance deliveries - you could argue that Spurs already boast midfield options with those qualities, such as Gylfi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey and Tom Huddlestone. What makes Paulinho so attractive is that they're all combined together in one package. Working in tandem with Sandro and Dembele, the suggestion is for each player to shift seamlessly between attack and defence - Spurs' beating heart.
With Bale and Benoit Assou-Ekotto (or whoever's tasked to be left-back, should he be sold) doing the leg work on one flank, and Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon rampaging down the other, AVB needs only stick a sharp striker like Roberto Soldado up front and the forward momentum is rather frightening. Spurs have to find another gear next season to make the top four, and putting Paulinho in the tank could provide it.
Seven more Confederations Cup transfer targets:
Keisuke Honda (Japan): Attacking midfielder Honda looks to be heading for AC Milan from CSKA Moscow, which will annoy Everton fans who would have been hoping to see the Japan star at Goodison Park next season. Set pieces are the 27-year-old's strong point, but he's an excellent dribbler as well.
Godfrey Oboabona (Nigeria): On trial at Arsenal last March, centre-back Oboabona was probably the Super Eagles' star man in Brazil. The 22-year-old has also been heavily linked with Newcastle and is thought to be available for around £1million from Sunshine Stars in his homeland. He's already won 25 caps for his country and has established himself as a first-choice defender.
Steevy Chong Hue (Tahiti): Scorer of the goal that took the Polynesians to the Confederations Cup, left winger Chong Hue seriously impressed in attack despite his side shipping 24 goals in three games, registering a surprisingly high pass completion rate of 91.9%. Still only 23, he's a rough diamond who could be worth a punt.
Hector Moreno (Mexico): Jose Mourinho is said to be a fan of the 25-year-old centre-back, who won the Dutch title with AZ Alkmaar back in 2009 and moved to Espanyol two summers ago. There is the issue of a £17million release clause in Moreno's contract but if Chelsea were to sell David Luiz, that potential big fee for the Brazilian would have to be reinvested somewhere.
Daniele De Rossi (Italy): Another Chelsea target, the 29-year-old defensive midfielder could be sold by Roma this summer according to the club's president. Along with the equally experienced Giorgio Chiellini, De Rossi was one of the Azzurri's best players as they ended up finishing third at the tournament.
Diego Lugano (Uruguay): Not as eye-catching as Edinson Cavani, but the Uruguay skipper is worth a mention. The 32-year-old centre-back was loaned out by Paris Saint-Germain to Malaga in January when it became clear he didn't feature in Carlo Ancelotti's plans. Although he'll be hoping to curry favour with Laurent Blanc, it seems more likely that Lugano will be up for grabs this summer.
Roberto Soldado (Spain): After playing the whole 90 minutes and scoring in Spain's opening win over Uruguay, the Valencia striker only got another hour's worth of football in Brazil. That won't have put off Tottenham, however, who have been tracking the 28-year-old for months and will be hoping to add him to the capture of Paulinho this summer.