Shanghai, China: Brazil's Paulinho swaps the World Cup and Barcelona for the Chinese Super League this week as he returns on loan to rescue Guangzhou Evergrande's flagging bid for an eighth straight title.
The powerful midfielder, last seen in action in the World Cup quarter-finals, received a rapturous welcome from Evergrande fans as he made his surprise return after lifting the Spanish title with Barcelona.
Paulinho, 29, spent two years with Evergrande before going to Barcelona last season and Fabio Cannavaro's team are in dire need of his dynamism, lying fifth as the CSL resumes on Tuesday following its mid-season break.
Some of the foreigners in the Chinese Super League are reportedly among the world's best-paid players but Paulinho said he chose to return to because standards were "gradually improving."
"After training with Evergrande and Barcelona and the experience of playing for Brazil's national team in the World Cup... I hope to bring more championships to the Guangzhou team and its fans as well as more excitement to the CSL," he said in an Evergrande statement.
Paulinho isn't the only World Cup player to arrive in China's summer transfer window, which closed on Friday, with Morocco striker Ayoub El Kaabi and Serbian centre-back Dusko Tosic heading to Hebei China Fortune and Guangzhou R&F.
Paulinho will also be joined by fellow Brazilian Anderson Talisca, on loan from Benfica, as Evergrande bid to reel in league-leaders Shanghai SIPG, starting with Tuesday's game against Guizhou Zhicheng.
Tuesday's key game is the top-of-the-table clash between SIPG, spearheaded by Brazil's Hulk and Oscar, and Shandong Luneng, who are level on points but trail on goal difference.
Several other China-based players took part in the World Cup, underlining how the well-heeled CSL is no longer just a destination for players past their prime.
They include Beijing Guoan midfielder Renato Augusto, who scored in Brazil's 2-1 quarter-final loss to Belgium and received a hero's welcome when he arrived back in Beijing.
Also in the mix are Tianjin Quanjian midfielder Axel Witsel of Belgium, who finished third in Russia, and Tianjin Teda's Jon Obi Mikel, the ex-Chelsea midfielder who captained Nigeria.
Other Russia returnees include Argentina's Javier Mascherano, who plays for Hebei China Fortune, and Belgium's Yannick Carrasco and Portugal's Jose Fonte, who play for Dalian Yifang.
Among the latest transfers, Shanghai Shenhua acquired former Chelsea striker Demba Ba of Senegal and Italian international Eder moved to Jiangsu Suning.
The deals came despite curbs slapped on foreign imports last year by China after a series of big-ticket arrivals raised concerns of overspending.