Back in the summer of 2003, Paris Saint Germain were not the worldwide phenomenon they are today. The club was reeling from finishing 11th in Ligue 1, below the likes of Auxerre, Guingamp and Sochaux, whilst the departure of star man Ronaldinho loomed large. In search of a way forward, the PSG hierarchy turned to place their trust in Pedro Miguel Carreiro Resendes, an ageing Portuguese striker at Bordeaux.
The sceptics existed – and arguably had a point. The man known as Pauleta was already 30, with the €12m fee that would represent spare change to today’s PSG a considerable investment in those days. Manager Vahid Halilhodžić was, from the off, forced to defend the mileage on the clock of his new recruit, citing how in his playing days he was able to score 28 goals when aged 34.
To paint this move as a complete risk, however, is massively blowing matters out of proportion. Pauleta had been crowned the league’s best player for two of the past three seasons, scoring 91 goals in the process. With Ronaldinho going, buying the league’s best striker as a replacement represented a solid option for PSG. The question was, would Pauleta be able to maintain his standards? Over the next five years in the capital, the answer was to become obvious.
The bright lights of the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Élysées were a far cry from Pauleta’s upbringing some 2500km west on an island chain in the Atlantic Ocean. He was born in April 1973 in the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago famous, amongst other things, as a prime location for whale watching.
Pauleta’s career began at Santa Clara, the island’s largest club. It was there that he spent half a decade in the academy, interrupted for six months by a spell in the renowned finishing school of Porto in 1989. Unfortunately, the young striker was too homesick to succeed, returning to the Azores to continue his development in Ponta Delgada.
A beautiful island, its greenery enhanced by ocean rains, Pauleta has always been fiercely loyal to his home. Throughout his career, he would celebrate goals by spreading his arms like the goshawk to which the Azores owes its names. As matters would transpire, this celebration was to be seen rather often.
The first time this was to occur came at fourth division Micaelense, with 11 goals in 23 games enough to earn Pauleta a move to second-tier Estoril. Thankfully, travelling to the Portuguese mainland was to pose little problems this time as the 22-year-old hit 18 goals. With experience under his belt, he was the complete article, boasting the essential combination of clinical finishing, speed and strength needed to be a top striker. The goals had started – and for the remaining 13 years would not stop.
Compatriot João Alves would move to add Pauleta to the large Portuguese-speaking contingent on the books of Spanish outfit Salamanca in the summer of 1996. Having just been relegated from LaLiga, Pauleta was tasked with one simple aim. He answered with 19 goals to top score as Salamanca went the entirety of the second half of the season unbeaten to win promotion back at the first attempt.
Such form prompted Portugal boss Artur Jorge to make history, calling up Pauleta in August 1997 to make him the nation’s first international that had never played in the Portuguese top-flight. Coming on for the final 15 minutes of a 3-1 win over Armenia, it would be the start of another chapter in Pauleta’s glittering career.
Back in domestic football, the striker was preparing for his maiden top-flight season, ready to subject such footballing cathedrals as Camp Nou, Mestalla and Santiago Bernabéu to his fury. Pauleta would score 15 goals in LaLiga, including a hat-trick against Deportivo and braces in a 6-0 triumph against Valencia and 4-1 win at Barcelona, as Salamanca secured safety. Summer interest was rife and the goshawk continued to soar.
Despite being offered a return to Porto, the striker insisted on remaining in Spain, signing with Deportivo. Unfortunately, this proved the most problematic period of Pauleta’s career. He managed just three goals in his debut season in Galicia, with the arrival of Roy Makaay from Tenerife in the summer of 1999 only serving to exacerbate the issues.
The signings of Diego Tristán and Wálter Pandiani following the 2000 title win led to Depor deeming Pauleta surplus to requirements. However, there was little cause for concern. The Portuguese left Spain with a LaLiga winners medal, and there were no shortage of interested parties. The final destinate would prove to be Bordeaux, with the eagle landing some ten minutes before the close of the transfer window.
Looking at Pauleta’s career as a three-course meal, if Spain had been the starter, the renowned cuisine of France was to provide the main course. A week after signing, Pauleta made his debut at Nantes, going on to score a hat-trick in a 5-0 demolition. This foreshadowed an impressive run that ended with Bordeaux perched on top of the league by the end of November. Unfortunately, Les Girondins were to end in fourth, although the impact of the Portuguese was obvious: 20 goals in 28 games saw him sit second only to Lyon’s Sonny Anderson.
Pauleta would go one better the following season, registering 22 times in his first full season to end as joint highest marksman alongside Djibril Cissé of Auxerre. There was also glory in the 2002 Coupe de la Ligue, with Pauleta scoring twice in a 3-0 win over Lorient, including a memorable scissor-kick for his second goal. Subsequently crowned the league’s best player, he would head to that summer’s World Cup as Portugal’s main striker.
Playing in his preferred position as a lone frontman, with João Pinto slightly behind, it was to be a wholly unsuccessful tournament for Portugal. Only one win was secured as they crashed out in the group stages, losing to both South Korea and the USA. Pauleta was one of the few players to emerge with any credit, scoring a hat-trick in the sole win, a 4-0 triumph over Poland.
This tournament would indirectly lead to Pauleta’s next career step, following the exciting performances of PSG’s Ronaldinho in the Far East. Despite staying in Paris for a season after the tournament, in the summer of 2003 he was the subject of a high-profile bidding war between Barcelona and Manchester United, joining the former for £21m. A few days prior to this, Pauleta had arrived at the Parc des Princes, handed the unenviable task of replacing the future Ballon d’Or winner.
His debut season would go some way to repaying the debt. Twenty-three strikes across 42 games guided Les Parisiens to within three points of champions Lyon, alongside their first silverware in six years in the Coupe de France. In the final against second-tier Châteauroux, it was Pauleta who scored the winning goal. This he also did in Le Classique, converting a lob from an impossibly narrow angle to embarrass Fabien Barthez.
A desire to play in the Champions League for the first time sat as one of the main motives behind a move to Paris, and in 2004/05 Pauleta got such an opportunity. However, PSG were to flop, finishing bottom of a group containing Chelsea, CSKA Moscow and Porto. Only one win was secured, against Porto, with Pauleta bagging the winner. Meanwhile, the league was also a disappointment; despite scoring 14 goals, the Portuguese was unable to prevent PSG slumping to ninth.
The following campaign was more fruitful as Pauleta won his second Coupe de France, proving instrumental en route to the final. In the quarter-final with Lille, he curled home the winner from the edge of the box, while an over-the-shoulder volley with four minutes left to play against Nantes won the semi. In Ligue 1, he would again end as top scorer, registering 21 times, the highlight of which was a ferocious long-range strike against Ajaccio.
Again, Pauleta travelled to the World Cup as Portugal’s main striker, but unfortunately failed to score as Portugal finished in fourth. It was a tale consistent throughout Pauleta’s international career, namely of scoring in qualifying but failing to translate this onto the big stage. Regardless, his record of 47 goals from 88 caps is highly impressive, enough to make him Portugal’s top scorer behind the otherworldly Cristiano Ronaldo.
Pauleta’s final two seasons in Paris brought with them moments of joy and despair in equal measure. In 2006/07 he scored 15 goals to end as Ligue 1’s outright top scorer for a third time. Meanwhile, in a troublesome final campaign, he clashed with new manager Paul Le Guen, flitting in and out of the line-up as PSG narrowly avoided relegation. Some form of reprieve was found as Pauleta scored in yet another final to help win his second Coupe de la Ligue.
The honours that Pauleta helped PSG secure have been dwarfed in recent times, whilst his goal tallies have now been surpassed by both Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimović. What’s important to remember, however, is the context of Pauleta’s half-decade stay in the capital. He helped provide moments of light in what was an inconsistent period for the Parisians, fulfilling the role of talismanic goalscorer better than many predicted.
Upon departing Paris for Manchester in 2016, Ibrahimović would claim how he came to the city like a king and left a legend. Whilst said in typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, it remains disrespectful to the exploits of Pauleta. He came to PSG as an ageing and expensive signing with a number of doubters, but would prove them all wrong to leave as one of the club’s greatest strikers.
By James Kelly @jkell403