Paulinho: It's a privilege to help Lionel Messi be the world's best player
BARCELONA -- Paulinho says it's a "privilege" to serve the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, and thanked the Argentine for helping him settle into life at Barcelona quickly following his summer move from Guangzhou Evergrande.
Despite the doubts which clouded his €40 million arrival, Paulinho has managed to hit the ground running at Camp Nou, proving a lot of people wrong with two goals in his first nine appearances.
That, in part, has been down to his relationship with Messi on the pitch, with his winning goal against Getafe last month set up by the forward's through ball.
"Playing alongside Messi is special for me," Paulinho said in a news conference on Tuesday. "He's a player I always wanted to play with. I have played against him with Brazil, but to play alongside him is a privilege.
"Messi's a player that has helped me a lot. He has helped me adapt [to the team] and the reception from all of my teammates has been incredible, perfect.
"My job here is to help [Messi] continue to be the best player in the world. When someone is playing alongside the best player in the world, you just have to do what you need to do to make him the best and ensure that the ball gets to him as quickly and as often as possible."
Ernesto Valverde agreed with Paulinho's assessment, rubbishing the idea that Cristiano Ronaldo will be on a par with Messi if he draws level with him on five Ballon d'Ors later this year.
"We all know who is the best player in the world," Valverde said. "This subject about giving the Ballon d'Or to one player or another doesn't worry me.
"You don't need a Ballon d'Or, a gold medal, a silver medal or a bronze medal to know that Messi's the best in the world."
Paulinho and Valverde were both speaking ahead of Wednesday's game against Olympiakos in the Champions League, with Barca looking to cement their place at the top of the group with a third successive win.
It will be a special occasion for Valverde, who won three league titles during two spells as Olympiakos coach and is fondly remembered by the club's supporters.
"For me, it's an emotional game," the Barca coach said. "Both games will be, here and there, but maybe the one there more because it's a stadium with a special kind of magic where I had a great time.
"The team and the players have changed a lot, but many people remain the same and it's exciting for me. It's a club that is used to winning and the affection I have received from them is reciprocated.
"What worries me most about [the game] is Olympiakos's need to win after starting with two losses. They will work hard in defence and they can surprise us on the counter. They have very quick players in attack."
Barca go into the game on a 10-game unbeaten run after Luis Suarez salvaged a point with an 82nd-minute header against Atletico Madrid at the weekend.
"We're happy with how things are going," added Valverde, who will have a full squad to choose from with the exception of the injured Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha and Jordi Alba.
"The fundamental thing for me is the two games in which we've had the disadvantage of going behind in, against Getafe and Atletico. Coming back in those games has created a good feeling.
"This team has spirit, it fights. There will always be problems. It's easy when you're in front, but when you have to come from behind you have to know how to compete."
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.