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 By Tim Vickery

Is Brazil starlet Paulinho leaving Vasco da Gama for Bayer Leverkusen too soon?

It is 20 years since Brazil's Vasco da Gama won the Copa Libertadores and it seems that their fans will have to wait at least one more year for a second triumph.

After four of their group games, they have just two points to their name. Down to 10-men for more than half an hour, they fought hard to come back and claim a draw at home to Racing of Argentina.

Defeat would have left their position all but impossible; as it stands, it is merely very difficult. They have to beat compatriots Cruzeiro at home, win away to Universidad de Chile and hope that other results are kind to them.

They will also have to do it without their star young midfielder, Paulinho, who is in the process of being sold to Bayer Leverkeusen in Germany. He will have to wait until July, when he turns 18, but he will not be in action for Vasco before then.

Earlier this month in a Libertadores game away to compatriots Cruzeiro, Paulinho fell awkwardly and fractured his elbow. It was distressing to see him lying on the pitch shaking with pain -- and it was a moment that was almost as painful for his club. Vasco's fear was that a long injury lay off might spoil the chances of making a quick sale. As much as they like the player, they need the money more.

Paulinho is part of the same generation as Real Madrid-bound Vinicius Junior. The pair starred together a year ago in the South American Under-17 Championships. Vinicius got most of the headlines but Paulinho was the first to score a goal in the Brazilian first division -- getting both last July in 2-1 win away to Atletico Mineiro.

The goals were a little cameo of his rich promise. The first came from one of his well-timed bursts behind the opposing defensive line. The second was gorgeously curled home from the edge of the area. It is this dynamism and goal threat, usually cutting in from the left, that makes him so exciting. In all, he scored seven goals in 35 appearances for Vasco da Gama.

But is he leaving them too soon? Some certainly think so, including the former Brazil right-back Jorginho, a former Bayer Leverkeusen player himself.

The timing of a move to Europe is always tricky, and there is not necessarily a right answer. One size emphatically does not fit all but, as in this case, financial pressures can push players into earlier moves.

On the one hand, Paulinho has been picking up invaluable first-team experience with Vasco, where he quickly became an important player. In Germany he may well have to be much more patient.

Players can lose momentum in their careers in such circumstances, while there are also the difficulties of adapting to a very different lifestyle -- another language, culture and climate. Going through teenage years can be hard enough without doing it in a strange land. On the other side of the argument, Paulinho seems a bright young man and can count on considerable cultural capital: one of his aunts is a prominent and respected Brazilian journalist.

Leverkusen will give him the chance to develop further as a player. At the moment, Paulinho is very restricted to his right foot. In European football, where the teams play in a more compact formation, the opposition will be able to reduce his effectiveness to pushing him on to his weaker left, which he is very reluctant to use. If he is going to be a genuine great, he will have to make progress on this and German football should oblige him to do so.

The strategy of going to a club like Leverkeusen, big and competitive but not a giant, has proved successful for a number of Brazilian players. The idea is that the player develops and gets regular first-team experience in a reasonably successful environment, shining sufficiently to, in time, be snapped up by one of the major powers.

Vasco will also be thinking about their cut of any transfer fee should he be sold on to one of Europe's biggest clubs. That, though, is for the long term. More immediately, they have to focus of salvaging their 2018 Copa Libertadores campaign, starting with a must-win match at home to Cruzeiro next Wednesday.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.

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