On Sunday afternoon and with less than eight minutes on the clock, Chapi Romano played a pass into the path of striker Paulinho. At this point, you could have looked the complete other way and still knew with complete certainty what was about to happen. The 22-year-old stroked the ball home first time into the bottom corner, finishing with a degree of confidence that a player can only exude when they seem to be finding the back of the net every single week. For Paulinho, that is precisely what he is doing.
Paulo Rafael Pereira Araújo, or Paulinho for short, is adapting to life in Portugal’s second division exceptionally well. Since the 16th of September, he has scored in every single match. That is seven consecutive games across the Segunda Liga and Taça da Liga where he’s got on the scoresheet. Aaron Barton for Próxima Jornada takes a closer look at the most in-form striker in Portugal.
His Journey So Far
Paulinho’s journey isn’t the archetypal story of a boy at an academy who one day breaks into the first team. His is a story of a player who has had to work tirelessly to make their way through the ranks in Portugal. Something that he continues to do with impressive efficiency.
At youth level, he didn’t spend particularly long at one specific club, he was somewhat of a footballing nomad. Born in Braga, the striker had spells at FC Ferreirense, SC Braga, Vizela, Arsenal da Devesa, Alegrienses and Merelinense. Clubs of different sizes and playing at different levels, one thing remained constant however, everywhere he went, he scored goals.
In 2018, and at the tender age of 18, he found himself at S.Paio D´Arcos FC, a side that competes in the AF Braga Pro-Nacional, the top league in the Braga District, known in Portugal as the Distritais and one step below the Campeonato do Portugal. In his first season, he started 14 games across all competitions, scoring 10 goals. In his second season, he went from strength to strength, this time starting 25 games, repaying the faith shown in him by scoring 21 goals, ending the season as the second-highest scorer in the division and the top scorer at his club, despite his tender age. He was simply a cut above, it was time for a new challenge.
He made the step up to the Campeonato do Portugal the following season, joining AD Fafe. At 20 years old, he was ready to mix it in a much more competitive division and for a side with real ambitions of being promoted to Liga 3, the newly created division in Portugal which sits between the Segunda Liga and the Campeonato. Paulinho was used mostly off the bench in his first and only season at Fafe, although that didn’t stop him from doing what he does best, finding the back of the net. He started 17 games for the club, scoring 10 times and finishing the season as the club’s top scorer, helping them gain promotion to Liga 3 in the process.
Just like in the previous season, Paulinho had yet again proven that he could mix it at a higher level. Once again, it was time for a new challenge.
Segunda Liga, His Biggest Challenge Yet
Fast forward to 2021, the hitman was given his biggest challenge yet. Segunda Liga side Estrela da Amadora signed him on an initial two-year deal. This move presented Paulinho with a fresh opportunity, to play in Portugal’s second division for the first time in his career. In the Segunda, the speed of the game is quicker and more intense, the defenders are stronger and more experienced and with every club dreaming of promotion to Portugal’s top flight, the consequences of each result, good or bad, are immense.
His debut simply could not have gone any better. Estrela hosted newly promoted Primeira Liga outfit Vizela in the first round of the Taça da Liga. After 80 minutes and with the game locked at 1-1, manager Rui Santos decided to bring the young striker on. It took him just nine minutes to find a winner, sending Estrela through to the next round of the cup. A dream debut.
After this match, Paulinho continued to be used off the bench, playing 30, 45, 26, 32 and 27 minutes respectively with Santos opting to start with Fabrício Simōes and Leandro Tipote as his striking options. Over the next five games, Estrela won just once. Manager Rui Santos’ last game in charge was a 2-5 defeat at the hands of Rio Ave at home. Ricardo Chéu took over and looking to turn Estrela’s form around, Paulinho was given an opportunity. He was brought on against Académica Coimbra after 63 minutes with his side 1-0 down, he was on the pitch for less than 200 seconds before scoring his sides equaliser. Less than ten minutes later Diogo Pinto grabbed Estrela’s second of the match, which looked to have given Estrela all three points. That was until they conceded a last gasp goal in stoppage time. The Tricolor had to settle for a draw but for new manager Ricardo Chéu, one positive to take was that in Paulinho he had someone that could turn games on their head, this is when his incredible scoring run began.
An Incredible Run of Form
Since the Académica match, Paulinho has started all seven of Estrela’s matches across the Campeonato and the Taça, coinciding with the club enjoying their best form of the season so far. In their last six games, they have won five and lost just once, Paulinho has scored in every single match. Not only is he finding the back of the net, but he is scoring important goals too. Against Louletano he scored Estrela’s equaliser, before scoring a 95th-minute winner to send his side through to the next round of the Taça. Against Leixōes in the league, he scored the only goal of the game in the 89th minute. Against league leaders Feirense, he scored the games opening goal in a match Estrela would go on to win 2-1.
His goals and performances have taken Estrela da Amadora to fifth in the Segunda Liga table, three points off a promotion playoff place and just four points off the top of the league. Of course it is still early days in the season, but if the Feirense performance and result taught us anything, it is that Estrela can compete with the teams at the top of the table. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing in football and in Paulinho, they have someone who is making it look very easy. If he can continue on this hot streak, anything is possible.