Returning Players: Juninho

Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we take a look at the Brazilian player maker Juninho – The South American who had a love affair with Middlesbrough.

Juninho had three separate spells at the Riverside Stadium and became a huge fans favourite while helping the club to their first-ever domestic cup.

Returning Players – Juninho

His First Spell With Middlesbrough

There was a real buzz in the North East when Middlesbrough announced the signing of Juninho. It sent real shockwaves around the Premier League having snapped him up. Boro, at the time, had only just been promoted to the top-flight under Bryan Robson.

He joined from Brazilian giants Sao Paulo after a glittering career in his home nation. A serial trophy winner in Brazil, Juninho won the Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup in 1993 as well as the 1994 Copa CONMEBOL.

His move was a real coup. He became an instant fan favourite with his silky skills lighting up the league. His first spell with the club last two years and, despite finishing on a disappointing note with relegation, it was very successful.

Juninho made 74 appearances during his first spell, scoring 17 times. He helped Middlesbrough consolidate in the Premier League for two seasons. The 1996/97 season, which turned out to be the final campaign of his first spell saw Middlesbrough reach both the League and FA Cup finals, but ultimately lose their place in the Premier League.

He was crestfallen following their relegation and visibly distraught. However, he did win both the Premier League Player of the Year and the Middlesbrough Player of the Year for 1996/97.

Juninho would depart in the summer of 1997 for Atletico Madrid for £13 million.

Teams Juninho Played for in Between

His time in La Liga was hampered by injury. He struggled to recapture the form demonstrated during his first spell at Middlesbrough, while a serious injury in his first season in Spain cost him a place in the 1998 Brazilian World Cup squad.

He managed 22 goals in 78 appearances for Atletico Madrid. Juninho returned to Middlesbrough on loan for the 1999/00 season. The club were back in the top flight and once again, he helped the a comfortable Premier League finish, scoring five times in 35 games before returning to Atletico.

Following the end of his second loan spell, Juninho returned to Brazil and turned out for Vasco De Gama and Flamengo. His return to Brazil was largely down to Atletico Madrid’s relegation in 2000. The La Liga giants had a torrid season which saw several changes at board level and in the dugout. They finished 19th and this prompted Juninho to return to Brazil.

Third Return to Middlesbrough

Amazingly, Juninho’s time at Middlesbrough wasn’t over. The Brazilian returned for a third spell in 2002 – arriving for £6 million from Atletico Madrid. Signed by then Boro manager Steve McClaren, Juninho would go on to help Middlesbrough secure their first and only piece of major silverware.

While he couldn’t recapture the form shown in his very first spell with the club, he still impressed. He scored 12 times in 48 matches and played an integral in Middlesbrough’s 2004 League Cup success. Boro would progress well in the competition before beating Bolton Wanderers in the final. Juninho would finish as Middlesbrough’s joint top scorer.

He helped Middlesbrough stabilise in the Premier League once again, supporting them to consecutive 11th place finishes before leaving at the end of his contract.

Juninho Arrived and Left Middlesbrough a Hero

It is fair to say the Brazilian playmaker had a love affair with Middlesbrough. In three separate spells, he became a huge fans favourite and he in turn loved the football club. He put the club on the map in the mid-1990s and certainly introduced his home country of Brazil to the English game and the team from the North East of England.

While his first spell arguably saw him showcase his best qualities, his final spell will be remembered most fondly. He played a huge role in Middlesbrough’s cup success and he gave them a platform to play European football.

The little Brazilian will be remembered as one of the greatest to ever don the red of Middlesbrough. His impact was undeniable and while there times of elation and heartbreak, he kept his head high and certainly left a Middlesbrough icon.

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