Hype in football is a dangerous thing.
Some players, like Cristiano Ronaldo, thrive off the expectation. Then there are others, such as Fabio Paim, who are crushed under it.
Chances are you have never heard of Paim, a now 32-year-old winger whose rollercoaster career has taken him to the football backwaters of Angola, Qatar, China, Malta, Lithuania and Luxembourg over the past decade.
In his early days in Lisbon he would cross paths with a young Ronaldo, who could not help but notice the considerable talent Paim possessed.
“If you think I’m good, just wait until you see Fabio Paim,” Ronaldo reportedly told reporters after arriving at Manchester United from Sporting in 2003.
The talented duo, who were more acquaintances than friends in Portugal, seemed destined for big things. But while Ronaldo’s career took off in the blink of an eye, Paim’s has instead stumbled from one disaster to the next.
Paim’s career arguably blossomed too soon, with elite clubs across Europe, including Barcelona and Manchester United, scouting him as a teenager.
Sporting were desperate to keep hold of their young star, however, and ended up throwing considerable money at a player who only years before could not even afford proper boots.
Paim himself has suggested he was earning up to €150,000-a-month while still just 16 and yet to play a senior game of football.
“I received a lot of money when I was 16, I already had a contract. I received more than the players of the main team because there were many clubs that wanted me,” Paim told Globo Esporte in 2017.
“I was not used to having money. When I started playing, I didn’t even have boots. All of a sudden, things were happening, and I was not prepared.”
While Sporting were happy to splash the cash, they were not so quick to offer Paim first-team experience, with the youngster shipped off on three separate loans within Portugal as a developing 19-year-old.
Those moves went smoothly enough, but any progress he had made on and off the pitch was undone by a bizarre decision to head to Chelsea on loan in 2008.
With little chance of cracking into the first team in west London, Paim was left to explore the English capital, and admits that with more money than sense he had his head turned away from football.
“That’s when I started to stop training, started to fail to fulfill things, started to drink… I started doing a lot of things because I had a lot of money, I had open doors to do what I wanted,” Paim said.
It was at that point, with Paim still just 20 and with his whole career ahead of him, that the supposed rise of another Sporting superstar quickly turned into a free fall.
Having departed Chelsea without making a senior appearance, Paim returned to his homeland in 2009 before he was again loaned out, this time to Rio Ave, only for him to be sent packing without having played a game due to his high salary.
An underwhelming loan to Portugal’s third-division soon followed, and before Paim knew it in 2010 Sporting had severed their ties with a player who was not long ago on the radar of Europe’s biggest clubs.
While the exact details of the attacker’s several transfers over the past few years are sketchy at best, one things stands out – he would barely manage a handful of appearances for each club before moving on.
In 2015, while playing in Luxembourg’s second-division, Paim was reportedly sacked for unprofessional behaviour, and the former Portugal youth international admits that he has a habit of associating with the wrong type of people.
“I would change a lot [about my career]. Perhaps, the people who were around me,” he said.
That habit has seemingly been a tough one for Paim to overcome, with the now 32-year-old having allegedly been arrested in Portugal last year for narcotics possession.
While Ronaldo continues to score freely for Juventus, the player he thought could have usurped him recently sealed a move to Poland’s fifth-division, and is understandably kicking himself to have wasted so much potential.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is in another world today, there can be no comparison,” Paim said in an interview with Globo Esporte. “In the past, yes. Maybe I was even better than he was but I didn’t have what he has, which is strength, the will to win, to be what you want to be.”
“He is a hard worker, and I wasn’t. I had the quality, maybe even more than him, but I didn’t have the rest. I would prefer to have much less quality and have the other part, then I could have been one of the best in the world.
“I thought that only with talent I would succeed, but no.”
Talent alone, as they say, is never enough. A lesson Fabio Paim has learnt the hard way.