From arriving in Hong Kong as a foreign player from Brazil to becoming deeply rooted in the local football scene, Paulinho (Paulo Robspierry Carreiro) has witnessed the development of Hong Kong football over the past fifteen years, both as a player and a coach. The phrase “Paulinho injured again” seems to have become the prevailing impression for many fans, but last season, at the age of 40, he made an incredible return to professional football, even surprising himself.
Hailing from São Paulo, Brazil, this former striker has had a passion for football since his youth. At the age of 19, he officially became a professional player when he played for his hometown team, XV de Piracicaba. That same year, he received an offer from Italy’s Siena, but due to limited foreign player slots, the deal fell through.
The following year, he was loaned to Palmeiras, and through connections with some smaller teams, he eventually landed at Olímpia and helped the team secure the championship in the Champions of Paulista Championship D3 event.
In 2007, a good friend from Olímpia, Helio, joined Citizen in Hong Kong, and when the club expressed the need for a new forward, Helio recommended Paulinho have a try. This reunion made them teammates once again, and Paulinho gradually adapted to his new lifestyle.
He recalled, “Initially, the living conditions in Hong Kong were quite shocking for me. The small apartments barely fit a bed and have a kitchenette located very close to the toilet, something I had never experienced in Brazil. However, in order to provide a better life for my family, I had to adapt to this environment while striving to perform well.”
Initially, Citizen signed him for only half a season, and just as he was looking for a longer contract, he suffered an injury.
Paulinho explained, “In Brazil, all football fields are natural grass, but in Hong Kong, many fields use artificial turf. Both artificial turf and the cold weather in Hong Kong in winter increase the risk of player injuries, and I did indeed get injured, which prevented me from performing at my best.”
Eventually, he seized an opportunity when he was moved to a defensive midfield position and earned the coach’s appreciation. He successfully renewed his contract with the Citizen and played for the team for six years.
In his first six seasons in Hong Kong, Paulinho played for Citizen, but with the 2014 Hong Kong Premier League reform into the Hong Kong Premier League and seeing that Citizen had no plans for promotion to the top division, he decided to join Kitchee.
However, that year, foreign player registration was subject to the “5+1” rule. The club initially intended to loan Paulinho and Helio to KC Southern after exceeding their foreign player quota. Since both had almost completed their 7-year period of stay in Hong Kong, the coach suggested they stay with Kitchee to train and await naturalization, which would allow them to participate in more matches without foreign player restrictions. This meant that they could only train but not play during the season.
It wasn’t until the same year, in a match against Shanghai SIPG in the “Hong Kong-Shanghai Inter Club Championship,” which was not subject to the Hong Kong Football Association’s registration and foreign player regulations, that Paulinho had the chance to play as a foreign player when Akande was injured, helping the team secure a draw.
After recovering from his injury and obtaining permanent residency, Paulinho had the opportunity to play for Kitchee again. Reflecting on the 2014 season, he considers it the peak of his Hong Kong professional career, saying,
“Although I only played half a season with Kitchee, I scored a total of seven goals and provided nine assists. At the same time, I helped the team win its first Hong Kong Premier League championship. During that time, I truly enjoyed football, both in terms of performance and mentality.”
In 2016, he briefly joined Shenzhen FC, but due to changes in Chinese regulations, he couldn’t play professional football in both Brazil and China despite having a Hong Kong citizen identity. Furthermore, knee problems plagued him, limiting his playing opportunities and leading to his decision to return to Hong Kong and rejoin Kitchee.
Paulinho believes that during the golden era of local football, foreign players indeed contributed to the improvement of local players. However, in recent years, due to differences in training intensity, players’ performance may actually have dropped.
He explained, “Once the training level is not that high, the performance of the players may drop. In Brazil, we trained every day, sometimes twice a day. While in Hong Kong, we practice only once a day, so players have to rely on self-discipline to hit the gym daily to maintain their performance.”
During his time with Kitchee, Paulinho started coaching youth teams, and later he transitioned to HKFC(Hong Kong Football Club) and kept leading youth teams in various competitions. At the beginning of last season, Anto Grabo, the assistant coach of HKFC, invited him to return to the Hong Kong Premier League.
Paulinho admitted, “When I received the invitation, I was a bit stressed. Because I hadn’t played professionally for 3 years due to my knee injury. Could I still play at the age of 40?”
Ultimately, he decided to give it a try. Last season, he played a total of 17 matches across various competitions, scoring six goals and providing two assists for HKFC. However, he also noticed some challenges, stating, “The competition for the player’s position is much more intense in other regions, and unlike Hong Kong, you can’t just leave and come back at an older age. From an overall perspective, it’s not very healthy. I often joke about it: Age is just a number; it depends on how you take care of your body.’ I can confidently say that compared to some younger players, my fitness might be better because I’ve been working on it consistently, whether at home, on the pitch, or in the gym.”
After being closely involved in the football scene for 15 years, Paulinho has identified one of the obstacles to the development of Hong Kong’s football ecology: the lack of a systematic youth training program.
He said, “If a place doesn’t lay a strong foundation for young people to play football, it’s challenging to compete with other teams. So during this time, I have focused all my energy on coaching and distanced myself from professional play for the past two years. It’s a pity to see young players who might not 100% enjoy football due to a lack of experience and confidence.”
Paulinho has faced multiple injuries throughout his professional career, and he believes that training and playing on artificial turf fields were significant factors. Artificial turf lacks the support and cushioning provided by natural grass; even with specialized high-stud shoes for artificial turf fields, the risk of injury remains high, especially when making quick turns.
“Furthermore, I used to push myself constantly to train more. After returning to HKFC, I wanted to hit the gym, train harder in a short time, but my muscles weren’t prepared, and I ended up getting injured again. Looking back, I felt foolish. Recovery indeed takes time, and being too hasty can backfire.”
Opportunities require hard work, and everything you invest reflects in a player’s physique and performance,” As a professional footballer, I demand a lot from myself because I respect my profession and body. I also expect my students to work diligently, but ultimately, it’s up to them. I admire the young player, Chau Tsz Hin, in our team; he has both potential and skills. How far he goes in the future will depend on how much effort he’s willing to put in.”
In addition to hard work, Paulinho emphasizes the importance of enjoying the game on the pitch. “Playing football is about finding joy, so just leave the unnecessary pressure off the field!”
|Full Name||福保羅 Paulo Robspierry Carreiro “Paulinho”|
|Date of Birth||1983/1/16|
|Professional team||XV de Piracicaba （2002-05）|