A CAREER IN KITS: JUNINHO

A CAREER IN KITS: JUNINHO

Osvaldo Giroldo Júnior - or Juninho to you and me - was one of those rarities in modern football: a player who was universally liked.Perhaps it was because he appeared to genuinely enjoy the talent he'd been blessed with. He ruthlessly tormented defenders but always, always with a smile on his face.

Maybe it was because he was so small. Too small, according to many of the scouts who flocked to watch the diminutive teenage trequartista from the middle class São Paulo suburbs. Or was it that he cared? The Brazilian's loyalty and love for Middlesbrough were at odds with the money-chasing caricature of the modern day player.

But more of that later.

First: beginnings.

 

Ituano FC - 1990-93

Wearing a kit that can only be described as fucking batshit, Juninho Paulista began his career with local club Ituano, where his mercurial brilliance soon alerted neighbouring giants São Paulo.

 

 

São Paulo - 1993-95

São Paulo's head coach Telê Santana spotted Juninho's special talent and sanctioned his signing. It proved astute business as the little playmaker helped his new team with the 1993 Copa Libertadores, the 1993 Intercontinental Cup (beating AC Milan) and the 1994 Copa CONMEBOL. By February 1995, Juninho had been called up for the national team.

 

 

Middlesbrough - 1995-97

By now, it seemed as though Juninho would have his pick of Europe's top clubs - and he probably did, but it was Middlesbrough, just promoted to the Premier League, who secured his signature for £4.75 million. Thousands turned out for his presentation at the Riverside, where he wore a kit seven sizes too big while entertaining supporters with the obligatory keepy-uppy routine.

It's hard to quantify quite how much his signing meant to Teeside, an area, then as now, beset by deep deprivation. The Little Fella, as he became known, transformed not just a club but a community.

In 1995/96, Boro finished 12th but a year later, the club were relegated on the last day of the season, Juninho weeping on the Elland Road turf at the final whistle.

 

 

Atlético Madrid - 1997-2002

Juninho, desperate to make the squad for France 98, left for Atlético Madrid - but his time at the Vicente Calderón was blighted by injury, none more devastating than a leg break in February '98 that cruelly ruled him out of the World Cup that summer. He did, however, get to wear one of the great Atlético kits.

During the 1999/2000 season, he was loaned back to Middlesbrough - who by then had been promoted back to the Premier League - before another loan spell, this time with Brazilian side Vasco da Gama.

 

 

Middlesbrough - 2002-04

Juninho's love affair with Middlesbrough wasn't done yet. He began his third spell at the club in the summer of 2002, when Boro paid £6m to take him back from Atlético. During those two seasons, he played 35 times, helping the club win the 2003/04 League Cup, the team's first and only major honour. In December 2007, he was voted by Boro fans in a PFA fan's poll as the club's greatest ever player.

 

 

Celtic 2004/05

A season at Celtic followed - but his year at Parkhead was an unhappy one for the Brazilian, who played only a handful of games for the Hoops, with manager Martin O'Neil often deploying him out of position.

 

 

Palmeiras - 2005-07

A return to Brazil came in 2005, with Juninho signing for Palmeiras, scoring 20 goals in 63 games for the club.

 

 

Sydney FC - 2007/08

A year in Australia came next but injury plagued his time in Sydney. He still showed glimpses of his genius though, including during an epic 5-3 victory over LA Galaxy. When his contract wasn’t renewed at the end of the season, Juninho announced his immediate retirement.

 

 

Return to playing

In January 2010, Juninho returned to the game as player-president of his first club, Ituano. Incredibly, on the last day of the season, he scored the goal that saved them from relegation.

 

 

Brazil - 1995-2003

Juninho represented Seleção 49 times, scoring five times. He was part of the 2002 World Cup-winning team. 

 

 

A special talent and a lovely guy - the game is a poorer place without The Little Fella.

 

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