Juninho: The little fella who lit up the Riverside during Boro’s samba years

Juninho Middlesboro

In the annals of football history, certain players etch their names indelibly, leaving an unforgettable mark on the sport and capturing the hearts of fans worldwide. Juninho Paulista, the diminutive Brazilian midfielder, is undoubtedly one such legendary figure. His illustrious career and profound impact on Middlesbrough FC, along with the wider English football landscape, make him a celebrated icon to this day.

Arriving on the English shores in the mid-1990s, Juninho’s signing by Middlesbrough Football Club was a moment that caught the imagination of an entire city. In the spring of 1995, Boro found themselves in the second-tier football, struggling to make a mark in the antiquated Ayresome Park. Come the October, the arrival of the 5’5″ Brazilian prodigy heralded their elevation to the grandeur of the Premier League and a brand-new stadium, the Riverside.

Juninho’s prowess on the field was undeniable, earning him the Footballer of the Year award in his homeland and making him a symbol of hope and ambition for Middlesbrough. At a time when the Premier League was yet to witness a significant influx of foreign stars, the signing of Juninho by chairman Steve Gibson proved to be a masterstroke, transforming Boro into a potential new home for exciting football talents from across the globe.

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Throughout his career, Juninho showcased unparalleled skill, speed, and vision that enamoured fans, not only in Middlesbrough but across the league. His impact was profound, earning him accolades and recognition, including being voted as the best Brazilian player to have graced English football. Moreover, he played a pivotal role in Brazil’s 2002 FIFA World Cup triumph, solidifying his status as one of the sport’s most revered talents.

As we embark on a journey through Juninho’s remarkable career and his profound influence on Middlesbrough FC and the Premier League, we delve into the legacy of “The Little Fella,” a player whose magic on the field transcended borders and continues to be cherished by football enthusiasts worldwide.

The beginning: Sao Paulo and the Copa Libertadores

Born Oswaldo Giroldo Junior on February 22, 1973, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Juninho’s footballing journey began at a young age. As a talented youngster, he joined the youth ranks of Sao Paulo, one of the country’s most successful football clubs. By 1993, he had made his breakthrough into the senior team, quickly establishing himself as a vital player for the club.

Juninho’s rise to prominence in Brazil was meteoric, and he played a crucial role in Sao Paulo’s success, winning six titles in just two years. Notably, he was part of the squad that lifted the 1993 Copa Libertadores and the 1993 Intercontinental Cup, defeating Fabio Capello’s AC Milan. Playing alongside footballing greats such as Raí, Cafú, and Leonardo under the guidance of coach Tele Santana, Juninho showcased his immense talent and potential.

The 1995 Umbro Cup

The 1995 Umbro Cup was a pivotal moment in Juninho’s journey to Middlesbrough. The prestigious tournament brought together some of the world’s top international teams, and it provided an excellent platform for emerging talents to showcase their skills on a global stage. Held in England, it was a chance for English football fans to catch a glimpse of players from different nations, and little did they know that they would witness the rise of a footballing prodigy from Brazil.

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Juninho’s performances during the Umbro Cup were nothing short of sensational. He dazzled spectators with his flair, close ball control, and exceptional vision. His ability to glide past defenders and create scoring opportunities caught the attention of fans and football experts alike. One particular moment etched into the memories of those watching was when Juninho scored a sublime free-kick against England’s national team at Wembley Stadium. The goal was a testament to his immense talent and showcased his potential as a set-piece specialist.

Bryan Robson, the manager of Middlesbrough, was among those who attended the Umbro Cup matches as he was assisting Terry Venables and England ahead of Euro 96 – but he was able to use this as an opportunity to scout for potential talent to bolster his squad. As a seasoned midfielder himself, Robson had an eye for recognizing quality players, and Juninho’s performances stood out among the rest. Robson was instantly captivated by the young Brazilian’s skill and flair, and he saw in Juninho the missing piece to elevate his team’s midfield to a new level.

The decision to pursue Juninho’s signing was based on several factors. Robson recognized that the Premier League was evolving, and the influx of foreign talent was gradually changing the dynamics of English football. He believed that Juninho’s unique style of play would add an exciting dimension to Middlesbrough’s midfield and help them compete with the top teams in the league. Moreover, Juninho’s performances for Sao Paulo and during the Umbro Cup indicated that he had the potential to become a global football star.

Robson’s determination to sign Juninho was also fueled by Middlesbrough’s ambition to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. The club had recently gained promotion, and Robson knew that bringing in a player of Juninho’s calibre would not only improve their on-field performance but also raise their profile and attract further investment.

After witnessing Juninho’s mesmerizing performances in the Umbro Cup, Robson and his team initiated negotiations with Sao Paulo to secure the Brazilian’s services. The negotiations were not without challenges, as dealing with a prominent Brazilian club required intricate discussions with multiple stakeholders. However, Robson’s persistence and Middlesbrough’s determination to sign the highly sought-after talent eventually led to a successful deal, making Juninho the club’s record signing at the time.

The 1995 Umbro Cup became the catalyst for Juninho’s move to Middlesbrough, setting the stage for a new chapter in both his career and the club’s history. Little did anyone know that this signing would go on to shape Middlesbrough’s identity and inspire a generation of fans who would forever cherish the memories of “The Little Fella” gracing the Riverside Stadium with his magic.

Robson, a football legend in his own right and a box-to-box midfielder during his playing days, recognized Juninho’s exceptional abilities as a playmaker and decided that he was the player who could add a touch of magic to Middlesbrough’s midfield. Despite being a newly promoted team to the Premier League, Middlesbrough were ambitious, and Robson knew that signing a talent like Juninho could elevate the club to new heights.

Bryan Robson and how he was able to sign these stars

Bryan Robson’s appointment as the manager of Middlesbrough FC in 1994 marked a significant turning point in the club’s history. Robson was a footballing legend, revered for his illustrious playing career with Manchester United and the England national team. His reputation as a world-class midfielder and natural leader made him an attractive prospect for Middlesbrough as they sought to establish themselves in the Premier League.

When Robson took charge, Middlesbrough had just secured promotion to the Premier League after finishing as runners-up in the First Division. The club’s chairman, Steve Gibson, had ambitious plans to elevate Middlesbrough to new heights and recognized the importance of having a high-profile and experienced manager to lead the team. Robson’s name carried weight in the footballing world, and his appointment sent a signal that Middlesbrough meant business.

Robson’s reputation as a player and a leader meant that he could attract big-name players to the club. Footballers respected and admired him for his achievements on the field, and they were drawn to the prospect of playing under his guidance. Robson’s experience and footballing knowledge gave him credibility and made Middlesbrough an appealing destination for talented players looking to make an impact in the Premier League.

During Bryan Robson’s tenure as manager of Middlesbrough, he was able to attract several other notable players to the club, further bolstering the team’s quality and reputation. Some of the significant signings made during this period include:

Fabrizio Ravanelli (1996): The Italian striker, known as “The White Feather,” joined Middlesbrough in the summer of 1996. Ravanelli had previously played for Juventus and was a prolific goalscorer. His arrival created a buzz and added significant attacking firepower to the team.

Emerson (1996): The Brazilian midfielder, full name Emerson Ferreira da Rosa, was another impressive signing for Middlesbrough in 1996. Emerson brought creativity and flair to the midfield, forming a formidable partnership with Juninho.

Branco (1996): Also from Brazil, Branco, whose full name is Claudio Ibrahim Vaz Leal, joined Middlesbrough in the same year as Emerson. Branco was an experienced left-back who had represented Brazil in the 1994 World Cup-winning squad.

Gianluca Festa (1997): The Italian defender joined Middlesbrough in 1997 from Inter Milan. Festa became a key player at the heart of the defence and contributed significantly to the team’s success.

Paul Gascoigne (1998): While not during Robson’s initial tenure, he managed to sign Paul Gascoigne in 1998. Gascoigne, a talented English midfielder, had a storied career and was a marquee signing for Middlesbrough.

These signings, along with Juninho’s arrival, showcased Middlesbrough’s ambition to compete at the highest level and challenge the established teams in the Premier League. The team’s performances during this period were memorable, and they achieved commendable runs in domestic cup competitions and the league. The combination of foreign stars like Juninho, Emerson and Ravanelli created an exciting and formidable team that captured the hearts of fans and made Middlesbrough a force to be reckoned with in English football.

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Having a chairman like Steve Gibson, who was willing to invest in the club and back Robson’s ambitions, was also crucial in attracting top players. Gibson was not afraid to spend money on transfers and wages to bring quality players to Middlesbrough. This financial backing was essential in competing with other clubs, especially those with established reputations and bigger budgets. Gibson’s willingness to invest made it possible for Robson to pursue signings like Juninho and other high-profile players.

The combination of Robson’s reputation, his footballing knowledge, and Gibson’s financial support created a compelling proposition for players considering a move to Middlesbrough. The prospect of playing under a footballing legend like Robson, in a club with the ambition to compete at the highest level, was an enticing opportunity for players looking to further their careers and leave a mark on English football.

Robson’s presence as the manager also brought a sense of stability and professionalism to Middlesbrough. He instilled a winning mentality and a strong work ethic within the squad, setting high standards that players were eager to meet. His coaching methods and tactical acumen helped the team improve and develop into a competitive force in the Premier League.

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Under the partnership of Bryan Robson and Steve Gibson, Middlesbrough transformed from a club seeking promotion to a team capable of attracting world-class talent. Robson’s ability to attract big-name players and instil a winning mentality, combined with Gibson’s financial support and ambition, laid the foundation for a new era in Middlesbrough’s history. Juninho’s signing was just one of the many milestones achieved during this period of transformation, and it heralded a golden age for the club, with exciting football and unforgettable memories for the fans.

Signing Juninho

The day Juninho was unveiled as a Middlesbrough player was a momentous occasion for the club and its fans. It marked the realization of a dream to attract a highly-rated young player from Brazil, and it signalled Middlesbrough’s ambition to become a force in English football.

Juninho had already established himself as a talented and exciting player in Brazil, winning the Footballer of the Year award in his homeland. His performances in the Umbro Cup in England, including a memorable goal against England’s national team at Wembley Stadium, had caught the attention of football fans and managers across the country.

Bryan Robson, known for his footballing prowess and reputation as a midfield maestro during his playing days, saw something special in Juninho. The Brazilian’s flair, skill, and vision on the field perfectly complemented the type of football Robson wanted to implement at Middlesbrough.

The negotiations to sign Juninho were not without their challenges. Dealing with Brazilian clubs, especially for a highly sought-after player, required intricate discussions involving multiple stakeholders. Middlesbrough had to convince not just the club but also various representatives and agents involved in the deal.

After several days of negotiations, Middlesbrough finally secured Juninho’s signature for a then club-record fee of £4.75 million. The announcement of the signing created a wave of excitement among the fans, who could now look forward to seeing one of Brazil’s brightest talents in the Premier League, donning the red shirt of Middlesbrough.

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The day of Juninho’s unveiling was a moment of celebration for the club. Fans gathered at the Riverside Stadium to witness the introduction of their new star player. The atmosphere was electric, with anticipation and excitement filling the air.

As Juninho held up the Middlesbrough jersey for the first time, he instantly won the hearts of the Teesside faithful. The “Little Fella,” as he would be affectionately called, became an instant hero, and the club’s supporters knew they were witnessing the beginning of something special.

Juninho’s arrival at Middlesbrough marked a turning point for the club. With him on board, Boro’s aspirations reached new heights, and they became a team to watch in the Premier League. His impact on the pitch, along with the other high-profile signings, set the foundation for a thrilling and memorable era in Middlesbrough’s history.

In the next chapter of Juninho’s career at Middlesbrough, we explore how he adapted to life in England, how he flourished under Bryan Robson’s guidance, and the remarkable impact he made on the Premier League and the club’s history.

Juninho’s Impact at Middlesbrough

Juninho Paulista’s playing style was a blend of flair, skill, and tenacity that immediately endeared him to the Teesside faithful, despite his small stature of only 5ft 5ins. The “Little Fella” possessed remarkable dribbling ability, fantastic acceleration, and an eye for picking out incisive passes. His vision and creativity were unparalleled, and he had the ability to unlock defences with his exquisite through balls and pinpoint free-kicks.

In his first season at Middlesbrough, Juninho showcased glimpses of his talent, but it was evident that the transition from Brazilian football to the intense and physical nature of the Premier League required some adaptation. Nonetheless, he played an essential role in helping the club achieve a respectable position, finishing in twelfth place in the Premier League. Fans were excited by the flashes of brilliance he displayed and recognized that he needed time to fully acclimate to English football.

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It was in his second season that Juninho truly came into his own and won the hearts of the Middlesbrough supporters. Forming a formidable partnership with the Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli, Juninho’s performances reached new heights. He was more confident, audacious, and instrumental in driving Middlesbrough’s attacking play. With his outstanding performances, he single-handedly ignited the Riverside Stadium, electrifying the crowd with his mesmerizing runs and skilful manoeuvres.

During that 1996-97 season, Middlesbrough enjoyed remarkable cup success, reaching both the FA Cup and the Football League Cup finals. Juninho was pivotal in leading the team to these showpiece events. The club’s journey to the finals was nothing short of dramatic, as they displayed resilience and determination against formidable opponents.

The second season

The League Cup Run

The League Cup campaign in the 1996-97 season was equally remarkable for Middlesbrough. The team embarked on a thrilling run to the final, showcasing their attacking prowess along the way.

In the early rounds, they comfortably dispatched Hereford, Huddersfield and Newcastle – Juninho scoring once in the early rounds. The quarter-finals saw them pitted against Liverpool, where they won 2-1.

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The semi-finals were a memorable affair, with Middlesbrough going up against a talented and in-form Stockport County side. The first leg ended in a stylish 2-0 win courtesy of Beck and Ravanelli, but Middlesbrough lost the second leg 1-0 – but were still successful in securing their place in the League Cup final.

The 1997 League Cup Final

The League Cup final, held at Wembley Stadium on April 6, 1997, was a tense affair between Middlesbrough and Leicester City. It ended in a dramatic 1-1 draw, with Fabrizio Ravanelli scoring a crucial goal for Middlesbrough.

In the replay, held at Hillsborough Stadium on April 16, 1997, Middlesbrough and Leicester City battled once again. The match was evenly contested, but Leicester City emerged as 1-0 winners, snatching the victory with a Steve Claridge goal in the dying minutes of the match. It was the first major disappointment for Middlesbrough, who had come agonizingly close to lifting the League Cup trophy – and worse was to come.

The FA Cup Run

Middlesbrough’s FA Cup journey in the 1996-97 season was filled with excitement and drama. They started their campaign in the third round with a convincing 6-0 victory against Chester City. As the rounds progressed, the Teessiders faced increasingly challenging opponents, but they showed grit and determination to advance.

In the fifth round, they faced Manchester City and it was their Brazilian star who scored the game’s only goal at Maine Road.

The quarter-finals brought another test of their mettle as they were drawn against Derby County – Juninho and Ravanelli did the business away from home in a 2-0 win.

In the semi-finals, Boro faced a formidable Chesterfield side, who had been giant-killers in the competition. The match at Old Trafford was one of the most dramatic encounters in FA Cup history. Chesterfield led deservedly and a huge upset was on the cards – but goals from Ravanelli, Craig Hignett from the spot and Festa stole a draw. The match ended 3-3, and in the replay, Middlesbrough secured a hard-fought 3-0 victory to reach their first-ever FA Cup final.

The 1997 FA Cup Final

The stage was set for an exhilarating clash at Wembley Stadium as Middlesbrough faced off against Chelsea in the 1997 FA Cup final. However, what followed was a one-sided affair that saw Chelsea clinch the trophy with a display of dominance and efficiency.

The game began with an explosive start, and it took Chelsea only 42 seconds to take the lead with a stunning strike from Roberto Di Matteo. Collecting the ball from Dennis Wise, Di Matteo embarked on a mesmerizing solo run, covering half the pitch, before unleashing a fierce shot from 25 yards that soared over Middlesbrough’s goalkeeper, Ben Roberts, and nestled into the net off the crossbar. It was a goal of sheer brilliance, and the early setback seemed to rattle Middlesbrough, leaving them struggling to recover from the early blow.

Despite boasting the attacking talents of Juninho and Ravanelli, Middlesbrough found it challenging to break through Chelsea’s solid defence, anchored by the impressive performances of Wise, Eddie Newton, and Di Matteo himself. Middlesbrough’s Mikkel Beck, who had hoped to make a significant impact, had to settle for a place on the bench, as Bryan Robson opted for Phil Stamp’s combative qualities in midfield.

As the game wore on, Middlesbrough’s injury woes compounded their misery. Ravanelli, who had been nursing a back problem, was forced to leave the field after a failed attempt to beat Chelsea’s Frank Sinclair to a through ball. His absence further dampened Middlesbrough’s hopes of mounting a comeback.

In the second half, Chelsea continued to assert their dominance, although their reluctance to pursue a second goal kept the match alive. Middlesbrough struggled to find a way through Chelsea’s defensive organization, and even Juninho, renowned for his skills, found it difficult to escape the close marking of Di Matteo and the Chelsea midfield.

Despite some spirited attempts from Middlesbrough to push forward, they couldn’t find the breakthrough they desperately sought. Chelsea’s defence held firm, and on the rare occasions when Middlesbrough did manage to threaten, Chelsea’s goalkeeper, Frode Grodas, was up to the challenge.

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As the clock ticked down, Middlesbrough grew increasingly desperate in their attempts to equalize. However, their all-out attack left them exposed at the back, and Chelsea capitalized on the counter-attack. In a sublime display of skill, Gianfranco Zola beat multiple defenders before delivering a perfectly placed pass to Eddie Newton, who was waiting in the middle of the goalmouth. Newton calmly slotted the ball into the net, securing Chelsea’s victory and sealing their triumph in the FA Cup final.

For Middlesbrough, it was a day of disappointment and shattered dreams. The double blow of losing both the FA Cup and League Cup finals, coupled with their relegation to the First Division, left Bryan Robson facing an immense challenge in revitalizing the club’s ambition. Despite the defeat, Juninho’s flair and skill shone through, endearing him further to the Teesside faithful. Nevertheless, he would soon depart for Atletico Madrid, leaving behind a legacy as a legendary player for Middlesbrough, and one of the most exciting talents ever to grace English football.

Juninho’s Premier League Struggles and Relegation

The 1996-97 Premier League season for Middlesbrough was a roller-coaster ride filled with excitement and eventual disappointment. The club had made significant investments in Brazilian midfielder Emerson and Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli, aiming to compete with the best in the league. The season started with a bang as Middlesbrough entertained the fans with a thrilling 3-3 draw against Liverpool, and Ravanelli made an unforgettable debut by scoring a hat-trick.

The team’s first home games saw them dominate West Ham United with a resounding 4-1 victory and demolish Coventry City 4-0, with Ravanelli and the talismanic Juninho scoring two goals each. Middlesbrough’s attacking prowess saw them rise to fourth in the league after a convincing 2-1 win against Everton.

However, their fortunes began to change when they faced title challengers Arsenal and succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at home. From that point on, Middlesbrough’s form dipped, and they endured a winless streak of 12 games until Boxing Day, where they finally secured a 4-2 win against Everton in the return fixture.

Amid their struggles on the field, Middlesbrough faced a significant setback off the pitch. They found themselves embroiled in controversy after they postponed a fixture against Blackburn Rovers at short notice. The Football Association docked the club three points as punishment, which deepened their relegation woes.

Despite Ravanelli’s goal-scoring prowess, Middlesbrough’s precarious position in the league by Christmas put them in a relegation battle. The team managed to string together a good run of results in their bid for survival. However, the refusal of the Football Association to restore the deducted three points proved to be a decisive factor in their fate.

The circumstances surrounding the postponement and the subsequent punishment by the Football Association (FA) triggered heated debates and lingering frustrations among Middlesbrough fans.

In December 1996, Middlesbrough was facing a severe injury and illness crisis among their players, leaving them with a significantly depleted squad. When a fixture against Blackburn Rovers loomed, the club’s officials, including manager Bryan Robson and chairman Steve Gibson, were left with a difficult decision. They were concerned that fielding a team in such a condition would risk further injuries and potentially exacerbate their already precarious league position.

The club decided to call for the postponement of the match, claiming that they were unable to field a team due to the unprecedented health situation. They communicated their request to the Premier League, hoping for understanding and empathy under these exceptional circumstances.

The Premier League, however, was not convinced by Middlesbrough’s reasoning and was adamant that the game should go ahead as scheduled. Moreover, the league claimed that they had not been adequately informed about the severity of the situation. The decision to postpone a fixture was not taken lightly, as it was a rare occurrence in English football at the time.

As the situation unfolded, it emerged that the Premier League’s senior officials were not informed promptly about Middlesbrough’s request to postpone the match. The club received mixed messages, with some lower-level officials seemingly indicating that postponement could be considered under certain conditions. However, these lower-level communications were not officially authorized, leaving Middlesbrough in a precarious position.

Despite Middlesbrough’s attempts to justify the postponement, the Premier League and the FA decided to take a firm stance against the club. The FA docked three points from Middlesbrough’s tally, a decision that proved costly during the tightly contested relegation battle.

Middlesbrough and their fans strongly felt that they were unfairly treated, claiming that the club was not adequately warned about the potential points deduction. They argued that had they been aware of such severe consequences, they would have made efforts to field a team for the fixture. The anger and frustration from the points deduction lingered for years, as it was perceived by many as a severe punishment that did not fit the circumstances.

In hindsight, the controversy surrounding the postponed fixture and subsequent points deduction highlighted the need for clear communication and protocols between clubs and football authorities. The incident also underscored the importance of considering the unique challenges faced by teams in extraordinary circumstances.

While the legacy of the 1996-97 season lives on in the hearts of Middlesbrough fans, the disappointment and sense of injustice from the points deduction continue to be a topic of discussion among football enthusiasts, showcasing the lasting impact of this huge decision in the club’s history.

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The final day of the season presented a last chance for Middlesbrough to secure their top-flight status. Unfortunately, a 1-1 draw against Leeds United was not enough to avoid relegation, as they needed a win. The deduction of three points, earlier imposed by the Football Association, ultimately sealed their fate, condemning them to the First Division for the following season.

Atletico come calling

Juninho’s outstanding performances throughout the season were a silver lining amidst the disappointment. However, his desire to be part of the Brazilian national team for the 1998 World Cup influenced his decision to leave Middlesbrough for Atletico Madrid. His departure marked the end of an unforgettable chapter in Middlesbrough’s history, but Juninho’s legacy as a legendary player for the club lives on.

At the end of the 1996-97 season, Middlesbrough faced the disappointment of relegation from the Premier League, despite the significant investment and the presence of talented players like Juninho. Juninho’s desire to secure a spot in the 1998 World Cup for Brazil also played a pivotal role in shaping his future.

As Middlesbrough dropped down to the Football League First Division (now known as the EFL Championship), it became apparent that Juninho’s ambitions to play in the World Cup might be better served at a higher level and with a club that regularly competed in European competitions. Relegation to the second tier of English football could hinder his chances of being selected for Brazil’s national team.

During the summer of 1997, rumours began to circulate about Atletico Madrid’s interest in signing the Brazilian maestro. Atletico, one of Spain’s most prestigious football clubs, had a rich history and competed in La Liga, the top tier of Spanish football. The prospect of playing in La Liga, known for its technical and skilful style of play, appealed to Juninho, who was eager to showcase his talents on the European stage.

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Atletico Madrid’s interest in Juninho was well-founded. They recognized the impact and potential of the Brazilian playmaker and believed that his addition to their squad would bolster their attacking prowess. Moreover, they saw Juninho as a player who could add flair and creativity to their midfield, traits that aligned well with their style of play.

As negotiations between Middlesbrough and Atletico Madrid progressed, Juninho expressed his willingness to move to Spain, seeing it as an exciting opportunity to further his career and increase his chances of being part of Brazil’s World Cup squad. The prospect of playing alongside other talented footballers in La Liga and competing in European club competitions was too enticing to ignore.

Eventually, a deal was struck between the two clubs, and in the summer of 1997, Juninho completed his move to Atletico Madrid. The transfer marked the end of his spell at Middlesbrough, where he had left an indelible mark on the club and its fans. Juninho’s departure was met with mixed emotions in Teesside, as the fans appreciated the immense impact he had during his time at the club but also understood his desire to play at a higher level.

In Spain, Juninho continued to showcase his incredible skills, mesmerizing fans with his dribbling, passing, and goal-scoring abilities. He quickly became a key player for Atletico Madrid, earning adulation from both the club’s supporters and the neutrals who admired his unique style of play.

While Middlesbrough’s stint in the lower division would eventually lead to their return to the Premier League, Juninho’s move to Atletico Madrid marked the beginning of a new chapter in his career. His time in Spain would be another chapter in the storied career of the little Brazilian genius, further solidifying his status as a legendary player in the history of football.

Juninho’s departure left a void at Middlesbrough, but his impact on the club was etched in the memories of fans forever. His time at the Riverside Stadium remains a golden chapter in the club’s history, and his legend endures as one of the greatest players to have graced the Teesside turf.

Juninho in Spain

Juninho’s spell with Atletico Madrid in La Liga proved to be an important chapter in his illustrious football career. The Brazilian midfielder joined the Spanish club in the 1997-1998 season, and his arrival was met with much excitement and anticipation from the Atletico faithful.

During his time at Atletico Madrid, Juninho showcased his immense talent and versatility as a midfielder. He quickly adapted to the demands of La Liga and became a key figure in the team’s midfield. Juninho’s ability to control the game’s tempo, create scoring opportunities, and score crucial goals made him an indispensable asset for the club.

In the 1997-1998 La Liga season, Juninho made 27 appearances for Atletico Madrid and found the back of the net five times. His performances played a significant role in helping the team secure a respectable 10th-place finish in the league standings.

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The following season, Juninho continued to be a driving force for Atletico Madrid. In the 1998-1999 La Liga campaign, he featured in 28 matches and contributed with four goals and seven assists. His skilful displays on the pitch were a constant source of excitement for the fans and garnered praise from both teammates and opponents.

Juninho’s time in La Liga came to a close after the 1998-1999 season, as he departed for a new, yet old, challenge in England with the club he loved. Despite spending only two seasons at Atletico Madrid, his impact on the club and its supporters was significant, and he left a lasting impression with his mesmerizing performances.

Juninho’s successful spell in La Liga was a testament to his footballing prowess and adaptability to different playing styles. His ability to excel in one of the most competitive leagues in the world further solidified his status as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation.

Overall, Juninho Paulista’s time at Atletico Madrid showcased his flair, creativity, and technical brilliance, leaving an enduring mark on the club’s history and the memories of its fans. His contributions in Spain’s top-flight league added yet another illustrious chapter to his remarkable football journey.

But, his heart was calling him ‘home’.

Juninho’s Return to Middlesbrough on Loan (1999-2000 Season)

In 1999, a familiar face returned to the Riverside Stadium as the prodigal son of Middlesbrough Football Club – Juninho. After a brief spell in Spain with Atletico Madrid, Juninho’s love for the club and the strong bond he shared with its supporters led to his triumphant comeback on a loan deal.

The announcement of Juninho’s return sent waves of excitement through the Middlesbrough faithful. The Brazilian playmaker had left an indelible mark during his first spell at the club, and his second coming was greeted with open arms. The “Little Fella,” as he was affectionately known, was back to mesmerize the Riverside faithful with his skill, creativity, and infectious enthusiasm for the game.

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Juninho’s impact on the team was immediate, as he seamlessly rekindled his on-field chemistry with his teammates. His return brought renewed hope and belief to the club, instilling a sense of optimism that success was within reach once again. His ability to glide past opponents with his quick feet and inventive dribbling left fans in awe, and he quickly re-established himself as the talisman of the team.

Throughout the 1999-2000 season, Juninho’s performances were nothing short of exceptional. He was the heartbeat of Middlesbrough’s midfield, orchestrating attacks with his precise passing and visionary play – scoring four goals in 24 appearances. His flair and audacity injected a newfound energy into the team, elevating the quality of play and inspiring those around him to raise their game.

Juninho’s creativity and knack for scoring crucial goals made him a standout performer, and he played a pivotal role in Middlesbrough’s push for success in domestic competitions. His performances became a source of inspiration for the team, and he endeared himself to the fans once more with his unwavering commitment and passion for the club.

Moreover, Juninho’s return to Middlesbrough had a positive impact on the club’s results. His contributions on the field translated into vital points and victories, solidifying Middlesbrough’s position in the Premier League standings. His presence in the squad was a constant reminder of the club’s ambition to compete at the highest level and establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in English football.

Juninho’s return to Middlesbrough on loan during the 1999-2000 season marked a triumphant homecoming. It was a reunion of mutual affection between player and club, reigniting the spark that had ignited years earlier. The “Little Fella” had once again become the heart and soul of Middlesbrough Football Club.

But it was only a loan spell…

Back to Spain, again

Juninho rejoined Atlético Madrid, but the club had been relegated to the Segunda División, the secondary division of Spanish football at that time. Despite the setback, Juninho’s arrival brought a sense of excitement and anticipation among Atlético fans, who remembered his previous flair and brilliance on the pitch during his first spell in La Liga.

However, before donning the colours of Atlético Madrid again, Juninho embarked on a brief loan spell in his native Brazil with Vasco da Gama. Playing alongside another well-known Juninho, Juninho Pernambucano, he earned the nickname “Paulista” to differentiate him from his teammate. Back in familiar surroundings, Juninho quickly rekindled his magic and showcased his exceptional skills.

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During his loan stint at Vasco da Gama, Juninho made a significant impact and contributed immensely to the team’s success. He played a vital role in Vasco’s domestic triumph, winning the prestigious Campeonato Brasileiro Série A championship in 2000. Additionally, Juninho’s talent and creativity were instrumental in Vasco’s international success as they secured the Copa Mercosur trophy.

Following his successful loan spell at Vasco da Gama, Juninho also had a brief stint on loan with Flamengo, another prominent Brazilian club. During this time, he continued to demonstrate his footballing prowess, earning admiration from fans and further enhancing his reputation as one of Brazil’s finest midfield maestros.

Juninho’s temporary return to Brazil not only showcased his unwavering commitment to football but also allowed him to experience the thrill of playing in his homeland once again. These experiences further enriched his footballing journey, helping him grow as a player and leaving an indelible mark on the clubs and fans he encountered along the way.

But something, just something wouldn’t leave him alone…

Middlesbrough, part three

Juninho’s third spell at Middlesbrough marked a triumphant return to the club where he had become an icon and earned the adoration of fans. In 2002, after his successful loan spells in Brazil and Spain, the “Little Fella” made his permanent comeback to the Riverside Stadium, reuniting with the team that held a special place in his heart.

His return injected a surge of excitement into Middlesbrough and its supporters. Juninho’s reputation preceded him, and his arrival brought renewed hope for a successful era at the club. Boro fans welcomed their beloved Brazilian with open arms, knowing that his presence alone could elevate the team’s performance.

During his third spell at the club, Juninho once again showcased his brilliance on the pitch. His technical skills, incredible vision, and creativity made him a driving force in Middlesbrough’s midfield. His ability to control the game and orchestrate attacking plays was unparalleled. Juninho’s impact was not only felt on the pitch but also in the dressing room, where his leadership and positive attitude inspired his teammates.

One of the defining moments of Juninho’s third spell at Middlesbrough came in the 2003-2004 season. He played a pivotal role in Middlesbrough’s memorable League Cup triumph, a historic achievement for the club. Juninho’s performances throughout the tournament were mesmerizing, as he consistently provided assists and scored crucial goals.

The 2004 League Cup Final triumph was a momentous occasion for Middlesbrough Football Club, marking their first major trophy in their history. The journey to the final had been filled with challenges, including overcoming Arsenal’s formidable ‘Invincibles’ in a thrilling two-legged semi-final, but Boro’s resilience and determination brought them to the brink of glory.

The final itself, held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, was a nerve-wracking encounter against Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers. Roared on by a passionate and raucous travelling support, Middlesbrough got off to a dream start when Joseph Desire Job poked in the opening goal, making it the fastest goal ever seen in the League Cup final at that time. The early lead filled the Boro fans with hope and excitement.

Soon after, Job was instrumental again as he won a penalty, which Bolo Zenden confidently converted to double Boro’s advantage. With a 2-0 lead, the team’s spirits were soaring, and they seemed poised for a historic victory.

However, the game took a twist when a rare fumble from goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer allowed Kevin Davies to score, giving Bolton a lifeline and setting up a tense second half. Despite the setback, Schwarzer regained his composure and made several crucial saves to keep Bolton at bay.

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As the final whistle blew, referee Mike Riley’s signal for the end of the match ignited celebrations both in the Millennium Stadium and back home in Teesside. Middlesbrough Football Club had achieved a long-awaited triumph, and the party had finally begun. The scenes of jubilation and euphoria from the players, staff, and supporters were a testament to the significance of the victory.

The League Cup triumph was a defining moment in Middlesbrough’s history, erasing the memories of past Wembley heartbreaks and elevating the club to new heights. Manager Steve McClaren’s tactical acumen and the players’ exceptional performances, including the influential contributions of Juninho, played a vital role in the team’s success.

The victory not only brought silverware to Middlesbrough but also instilled a sense of pride and joy among the fans. It was a testament to the hard work, determination, and spirit of the entire club.

For Juninho, the 2004 League Cup triumph was a crowning moment in his storied career at Middlesbrough. Having returned to the club on multiple occasions, his love and passion for Boro were evident on and off the pitch. His creative genius and footballing artistry were instrumental in guiding the team to glory.

Juninho’s impact on Middlesbrough FC extended beyond his time on the field, as he remains an iconic figure and a symbol of the club’s enduring spirit. The Brazilian maestro’s contributions to Middlesbrough’s historic League Cup win will forever be cherished by the Boro faithful, and he holds a special place in the hearts of the Teesside community. His legacy continues to inspire future generations of footballers and fans alike, reminding everyone of the magic that can be achieved when talent, dedication, and passion come together on the hallowed turf.

His influence extended beyond the League Cup campaign, as Juninho’s performances in the Premier League were equally impressive. He played a vital role in guiding Middlesbrough to a mid-table finish and ensuring the club’s top-flight status for the following season. His consistent performances earned him widespread acclaim and reaffirmed his status as one of Middlesbrough’s all-time greats.

Throughout his third spell at the club, Juninho’s love for Middlesbrough and its fans was evident. He embraced the community and cherished the support he received from the Boro faithful. Juninho’s passion for the club extended far beyond his playing days, and even after his retirement, he continued to hold Middlesbrough dear to his heart.

Juninho’s impact on Middlesbrough FC was not just measured in his on-pitch performances. His commitment to the club’s development and his dedication to the local community further endeared him to the fans. His legacy at Middlesbrough is etched in the memories of supporters, who still fondly recall the magic he brought to the Riverside Stadium.

His return to Middlesbrough for a third spell added another chapter to his remarkable footballing journey. Juninho’s contribution to English football, particularly at Middlesbrough, transcended borders and left an indelible mark on the hearts of football fans worldwide. The “Little Fella” will forever be remembered as one of the greatest players in Middlesbrough’s history, a symbol of skill, passion, and unwavering love for the game.

Juninho’s Middlesbrough legacy

Juninho’s time at Middlesbrough is a testament to the power of football to create a lasting legacy. From his arrival as a young and relatively unknown Brazilian talent to his triumphant return for a third spell at the club, Juninho captured the hearts of Middlesbrough fans and etched his name into the club’s history books. He is not just a player who graced the Riverside Stadium; he is, without a doubt, the greatest player to have ever donned the red and white of Boro.

His journey was one of incredible highs, with unforgettable moments of skill and artistry that endeared him to supporters and left opposing defenders in awe. His impact on the club went far beyond his performances on the pitch. Juninho’s love for Middlesbrough and its people shone through in every match he played, making him more than just a footballer but a cherished member of the Teesside community.

Juninho’s legacy extends well beyond his time at Middlesbrough. His contributions to football coaching and development have left an indelible mark on the sport. From his role as a technical director at Vasco da Gama to his involvement with FIFA’s Technical Committee and Technical Study Group, Juninho has shown an unwavering dedication to nurturing the growth of football at all levels.

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The adoration Juninho received from Middlesbrough fans is evident in their recognition of him as the greatest player in the club’s history. Being voted as such by the supporters solidifies his place as an icon, and his name will forever be synonymous with Middlesbrough Football Club.

Juninho Paulista’s legacy is one of inspiration, skill, and a deep connection to the club he loves. His impact on Middlesbrough will be felt for generations, as he continues to serve as a role model for young players aspiring to greatness. From Brazil to Middlesbrough and beyond, Juninho’s name is etched in football folklore, transcending borders and uniting fans across the world.

As fans reflect on his time at Middlesbrough, they do not just recall the goals, assists, and trophies he brought to the club; they remember the joy and passion he brought to the game. Juninho Paulista will forever be remembered as “The Little Fella” who stood tall on the pitch and in the hearts of Middlesbrough supporters. His legacy shines brightly, and his impact on the club and the sport will remain an integral part of football history.