One phrase you’ll hear us bang on and on about over the season is how the 90s was ‘the decade that changed football’. You’ll probably get sick of it by the time we reach the podcast’s run, but however many times we repeat it, the phrase will fail to become any less truthful. The reasons are plentiful too, whether it’s Sky TV, the Premier League, Italia 90 or Jean-Marc Bosman. However, one of the biggest reasons is the calibre of footballer that we first got to enjoy in the 1990s. The names read like a who’s-who of 90s football; Klinsmann, Cantona, Zola, Bergkamp and of course one Osvaldo Giroldo Júnior, or Juninho as we know him better.
When it comes to players that changed how the Premier League was perceived, for some reason Juninho is one that seems to get overlooked. Whether it’s because he signed for ‘lesser’ club at the time, or because he was just so god-dam nice, not enough credit is given to the Brazilian who took Teeside to his heart. In fact it’s the club he signed for, not once but THREE times that makes him so crucial to how the league changed in the proceeding years. Back then it was one thing for the well established clubs to bring a player such of Juninho’s calibre to the shiny new Premier League, but Middlesbrough? It paved the way for less glamours clubs to bring in names they never thought possible before ‘The Little Fella’ turned up at the Riverside – including Boro themselves who later signed Ravanelli, Emerson and Boksic.
However it just wasn’t the legacy he left for clubs like Middlesbrough that makes him such a important name in 90s football. But also the joy he brought onto the pitch for both fans of Bryan Robson’s men, and Premier League supporters alike.
From the moment he arrived in England, to be greeted by a packed Riverside and serenaded by a ‘local’ Samba band, Juninho lit up the Premier League like very few Brazilian’s ever have. Of course us England fans had got a taster of his talent in that summer’s Umbro Cup with his goal against Terry Venables’ team (assisted by Robson, nice scouting Bry!), and it would be goals and performances like that we would become a custom to over the following eighteen months.
On his debut against Leeds in he set-up an equaliser for Jan Åge Fjørtoft, and would go on to score memorable goals against Arsenal and Chelsea that season before Middlesbrough’s roller-coaster of a 1996-97 campaign. Here Juninho, now wearing the number 10 shirt, dazzled and delighted the Riverside, aided by his countrymen Emerson and Blanco as well as the White Feather. Stand-out goals against Sheffield Wednesday and Hereford are well remembered, as he helped Boro reach both Cup Finals only to end in double heartbreak for the Brazilian.
Perhaps what was most memorable about Juninho, is just how much this unlikely union of Brazilian playmaker and unfashionable Middlesbrough meant to the player. Stories of him playing football with kids in the street are of plenty, but the the iconic image of him balling his eyes out at Elland Road as Boro’s season ended in relegation is one the decades most memorable moments – and evidence of how he’d fallen under the Boro’s charms.
On our first podcast we spoke to the man who cruelly struck the blow that led to Juninho’s tears, Brian Deane – and who later played with the Brazilian during his second spell on Teeside. Deane described the midfielder as being in the same mould as Lionel Messi, at least to Middlesbrough anyway, and it’s no surprise he has been voted as the clubs best ever player. Even if he was robbed of personal honours in 1997 ahead of Gianfrano Zola.
Juninho would go on to win a World Cup with Brazil in 2002, and finally a trophy with Boro during this third spell with club. But it’s his impact on the 1990s and affection for an unlikely club that makes him such an important and entertaining part of the decade we celebrate.
To hear even more about Juninho, listen to our first podcast as Boro fan Joel Young gives us a supporters view of the club’s very best. Available on the homepage or to download on iTunes.