It was a signature that caught the imagination of an entire city. In the spring of 1995, Middlesbrough Football Club was playing second division football in their dilapidated old house in Ayresome Park. But a few months later, and now a Premier League club with a brand new stadium, Boro had managed to lure one of the top-rated young players in world football to Riverside.
Juninho was the name on everyone’s lips.
From the moment the club announced their £ 4.75million signing in Sao Paulo, all of Middlesbrough fell in love with the 5’5 ”Brazilian. He had been the footballer of the year in his homeland. year before, which meant a lot considering they were world champions and still the biggest name in international football at the time.
But more than that, he had just become a symbol of what Boro could now hope to accomplish. In a league that had yet to see a massive influx of foreign superstars and current internationals, President Steve Gibson had pulled off a masterstroke.
Far from being a destination for steelworkers and shipbuilders, Middlesbrough could now be the new home for some of the world’s most exciting footballers. When Boro fans, and even non-football-loving locals, saw Juninho wearing a Middlesbrough shirt with a pen on paper and manager Bryan Robson smiling happily by his side, it was the start of something new.
Even before arriving in Teesside, Juninho had moved the fans. Their first game after the announcement was a trip to Sheffield on Wednesday live on Sky TV, and the game itself became a side event despite the Brazilian not even having arrived in the country yet. Boro fans dressed in Brazil’s famous canarinha colors were seen beating drums, whistling and dancing to samba through the streets of Hillsborough long before kickoff. Nigel Pearson, Neil Cox and Jamie Pollock would be among the stars of their team that day, but that didn’t matter… Juninho was the big draw all the same.
It took a few more weeks before The Little Fella, as he was to become known to fans, finally made their long-awaited debut against Leeds United on November 4, 1995. It was worth the wait. In 11 minutes, he had already made a huge impact.
Recovering the ball to the left about halfway through a pass from Pearson, Juninho advanced, faced Gary McAllister, then played a perfectly tilted ball behind Richard Jobson for Jan-Age Fjortoft to recover and overtake John Lukic. . The number 25 had made its mark with stunning style.
Boro then finished in a fairly comfortable place in the middle of the table, but Juninho only scored twice in that 1995-96 season as the club slowly began to build a squad around him. It was only after securing Premier League status for another year that they stepped out and made other eye-catching signings.
The arrivals of Fabrizio Ravanelli, Emerson, Branco and Gianluca Festa made Boro one of the go-to teams of 1996-97, with 111 goals scored in total in all competitions in Middlesbrough’s games. ‘The White Feather’ scored a memorable hat-trick on his debut against Liverpool on the opening day of the season on a 31-goal run, but Juninho was the man around whom everything else worked. The Brazilian scored 15 goals in an unforgettable campaign that saw Boro reach two cup finals as they proved to be a team capable of beating just about anyone that day.
JUNINHO WON THE LEAGUE CUP WITH BORO IN 2004
More memorable still, they would not only lose the League Cup and FA Cup finals, but also lose their Premier League status when a 1-1 draw at Leeds on the final day saw them lose two points, a few months later. having had three points canceled by the FA for not sending a team to the Blackburn Rovers game in December. Robson had pulled his team out of the game at Ewood Park citing a bout of injury and illness that had left him unable to form a team, but the FA had none of it.
With Boro back in Division One and a World Cup spot to go, Juninho moved to Atletico Madrid for around £ 13million.
“I think I should have been more mature and decided to stay in England in 1997,” he told FourFourTwo a few years later. “I have nothing against Atletico Madrid. On the contrary, I was really happy in Spain and I really wanted to play there but maybe at a different time.
He would make a brief return to Riverside in 1999-2000, spending a season there on loan following Boro’s return to the Premier League, but with a growing number of clubs now having recruited top stars, there was not everything. has the same effect on or off the pitch.
Another stint at Boro from 2002 to 2004 eventually saw him help the club win the first silverware in their 128-year history with a 2-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the Cup Final. of the 2004 League. Now World Cup winners with Brazil and surrounded by players such as Gaizka Mendieta, Boudewijn Zenden and George Boateng, Juninho was there to watch Boro succeed, ending an era his signing began nine years earlier.
He remains for most Middlesbrough fans the greatest player to ever wear the red jersey, and certainly the most exciting acquisition in club history. One of the Premier League’s most ambitious signings of all time, Juninho made Boro dance to the beat of the samba in a way no one could ever have predicted.