Welcome to another edition of the Flashback Friday feature on Football Meets Football. This week we’re back to a former footballer, and we will be looking at ‘The Little Fella’ Juninho. If you have any suggestions for players you would like to have featured in this article leave a comment on here, on Facebook or on Twitter.
Osvaldo Giroldo Júnior (or Juninho as he is known to you and I) was born on 22nd February 1973 in São Paulo, Brazil. He started playing football as a youth in his hometown with FC Curvados e Orgulhoso, Esporte Clube DER (where he won back to back youth municipal championships) and Clube Atlético Juventus.
He got his first break in senior football with Ituano FC in 1990, who at the time were playing in the Campeonato Paulista – the first division in the Brazilian district of São Paulo. He didn’t make his first senior appearance until 1992 but he was quick to wow audiences and won rookie of the year during his debut season. During a fixture against divisional giants and reigning champions São Paulo FC on 29th October 1992 Juninho scored and was voted man of the match as Ituano grabbed a 2-1 upset victory, which lead to São Paulo head coach Telê Santana requesting permission to sign the youngster at the end of the season. Permission was granted and on 1st January 1993 Juninho moved for a fee in the region of £100,000. He was with SPFC for just over 2 and a half years and got a taste for glory with the club – in 1993 they won the Copa Libertadores (the South American Champions League) and the Intercontinental Cup (after beating European Champions AC Milan 2-1), and in 1994 they won the Copa CONMEBOL (the South American Europa League). It was also during his time with SPFC that he got his first international call up in February of 1995, and on 11th June of the same year he came over to England and scored and got an assist for Brazil at Wembley in a 3-1 win in the Umbro Cup.
One of the coaches for England during that game was Bryan Robson, who was also manager of Middlesbrough FC. After gaining promotion to the Premier League that year he was determined to build a squad that would not only survive but challenge. He signed Nick Barmby from Tottenham for £7.5 million, secured the free transfer of Jamie Moreno from Independiente Santa Fe of Colombia and on 6th October 1995 he would make one of the most important signings in the clubs history – Juninho was snapped up for £4.5 million. The move shocked the footballing world as he had been tracked by a number of Europe’s top clubs but was lured to Teeside as he was a fan of Robson as a player. The fans showed their appreciation as around 6,000 turned up to his unveiling. It took him some time to adjust to the not-so-sunny climes of the North East and during his first few months with the club he was known to train in a balaclava with newspaper in his boots to try and keep his feet warm. During his first year with the club Juninho scored 2 goals in 21 appearances as Middlesbrough secured a 12th place finish.
While his second year was better personally – he scored 13 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions, won Premier League Player of the Month in March, was awarded Premier League Player of the Season and was runner up to Gianfranco Zola in the Professional Writers Association Player of the Year award – it would be a bad year for Boro as a team as they finished 19th and were relegated. They finished 2 points from safety and would have survived had they not been docked 3 points for failing to fulfill a fixture against Blackburn Rovers in December 1996. They also made the final in both the FA and League Cups, but lost 2-0 to Chelsea and 1-0 to Leicester respectively. Juninho was reduced to tears following the relegation.
Atletico Madrid, the reigning champions of Spain, capitalised on Boro’s relegation and signed Juninho for £13 million in July 1997. The move originally upset Juninho as he loved playing in England for Middlesbrough but he knew he could not stay with the club if he wanted to make the Brazil squad for the 1998 World Cup. His time with the club started well and he scored just 15 minutes into his debut against bitter rivals Real Madrid at the Bernebau, although the game would finish 1-1. Unfortunately for Juninho on 1st February 1998 in a game against Celta Vigo he broke is fibula after a tackle from Michel Salgado and would be out of action 6 months, thus ruling him out of the 1998 World Cup. His second year in Madrid solid as he would score 13 goals in 44 appearances across all competitions as Atleti made it to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup but he would still dream of a return to Teeside.
On 15th September 1999 his dreams came true and he secured a loan move back to Middlesbrough, who had been promoted back to the Premier League after the 1997/98 season. He made his second debut in a 1-0 home defeat to Chelsea on 25th September and would go on to score 5 goals in 35 appearances as Boro finished 12th. It would only be a single season back on Teeside for Juninho before his return to Atletico Madrid, who had been relegated to the Spanish Segunda División (second division) during his time away. 2 more years of loan moves in his native Brazil followed, mainly with Vasco da Gama where he won the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A and Copa Mercosur in 2000 but there was also a brief spell with Flamengo.
Juninho was part of the Brazil squad for the 2002 World Cup in Japan & South Korea and featured in all bar two of their matches as they secured a record 5th title. He featured as an 85th minute substitute in the final where Brazil defeated Germany 2-0.
Following an on-again-off-again transfer saga made difficult by his agent father, Juninho secured a full time return to Middlesbrough in August 2002 for £3.8 million, however he picked up an injury during a pre-season game against Modena in Italy and would miss a large chunk of the season. He would only feature in 10 games but managed to score 3 goals. During the second year of his third spell with Boro they would secure their only major trophy in the club’s history as they won the League Cup, defeating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in the final at the Millennium Stadium. It was a fine year all round for Juninho as he scored 9 goals in 38 games in all competitions, but he did not look the same player he did during his previous 2 spells with the club – the injuries seemed to be taking their toll on the little fella.
After a falling out of favour with manager Steve McLaren, Juninho was shipped north of the border on a free transfer to Celtic. Juninho has since said that he should have stayed to fight for his place at Boro as he believed he would have been able to force his way into the team, but he reluctantly accepted the move at the time. He was only in Glasgow for 1 year and it was a tough one for Juninho – he struggled to break into the first team and when he did he was played out of position on the right of midfield as manager Martin O’Neill stuck with his preferred duo of Stilliyan Petrov and Neil Lennon through the middle. Juninho would only feature in 14 games, scoring 1 goal as Celtic finished second to bitter rivals Rangers by just 1 point.
A return to Brazil with Palmeiras followed on another free transfer, and he was there for 2 years, scoring 20 goals in 63 appearances. He then made a return to Flamengo in 2007 for around £500,000 but struggled to make the first team and only appeared in a handful of games. In May that year Juninho refused to be substituted at half-time during a disappointing 3–0 Copa Libertadores quarter-final defeat at Uruguayan side Defensor Sporting. He ended up arguing with head coach Ney Franco and was ultimately sacked from the team.
Despite interest from teams across the globe Juninho decided to sign for Syndey FC of the Australian A League on 3rd August 2007. Sadly injury struck again, this time a problem with his shoulder, which meant he spent large amounts of time on the bench and when he did manage to get a run out he was hampered by chronic pain. After 1 year, 14 apperances and 0 goals Sydney released Juninho, and shortly after his release he announced his retirement from professional football. He would finish his club career with 353 appearances and 73 goals, adding 49 appearances and 5 goals for the Brazilian national team.
Since retiring he became president of the club that gave him his first professional chance – Ituano FC. He also appeared in a game for them in 2010, scoring a goal which ensured survial on the last day of the Campeonato Paulista. He has also appeared on various BBC football telecasts, most notably at the 2014 World Cup.