What’s left to say about Juninho Paulista that hasn’t been said before? Boro’s Brazilian son who brought his samba skills to this cold corner of the North East. Manager Bryan Robson signed the little Brazilian from his hometown club of São Paolo for £4.75 million in October 1995. Aged 22, Juninho was on the radar of many big European clubs but decided to sign for Boro which shocked many people, including Boro fans themselves. The Evening Gazette ran a story about Steve Gibson wanting the player to sign for the club, much to the bemusement of the Boro loyal who didn’t believe it for a second. But somehow it happened.

Known affectionately as The Little Fella due to his 5″5 stature, there was rumours he stuffed newspaper in his football boots when he first arrived on Teesside because he wasn’t used to the harsh cold of the North East – Redcar sea front is certainly a bit different to Copacabana beach! Juninho’s first goal for Middlesbrough came in a 4-1 thrashing of Manchester City and home fans seemed to immediately know they had hit the jackpot with their new attacking midfielder; he could light up any dull match and got fans off their seats. Newly promoted Boro finished 12th that season, with a very tumultuous season on the horizon.

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Bryan Robson attempts to console a heartbroken Juninho, we’re not crying you are…

The 1996/97 season started off with another shock signing in Fabrizio Ravanelli from Italian giants Juventus, closely followed by Juninho’s fellow Brazilian Emerson. The international trio alongside the rest of their team guided Boro to two cup finals in one season, and ultimately were relegated following a points deduction for that Blackburn match. That season, Juninho made Boro fans fall in love with football. From having a kick about with youngsters near his home in Ingleby Barwick to the excitement he brought to matches has undoubtedly not been matched since. Every time he got the ball it seemed he’d do something special. Despite being basically bullied and ran off the pitch by opposing players, he carried on regardless and no doubt inspired kids all over the area to get into football. The 96/97 campaign goes down as one of the most euphoric yet soul destroying season in Boro’s history, and Juninho is always at the forefront of those reminiscent discussions. He knew he would have to leave the club if Boro went down if he had any chance of breaking into the Brazil team ahead of the 1998 World Cup and the scene of him crying on the Elland Road pitch as his beloved club were relegated is enough to make the toughest blokes tear up.

He subsequently signed for Atlético Madrid but his time on Teesside was far from over. Two more spells at the club followed, one loan spell in the 1999-2000 season and then the prodigal son returned to Middlesbrough when he signed on a permanent deal from Atlético in 2003 on the back of lifting the cup with Brazil in 2002. This spell seemed to somewhat be a “third time lucky” situation for TLF as Boro finally won some silverware, beating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in the then Carling Cup final in 2004. Boro fans were absolutely elated that their club were finally able to get their hands on a trophy after so many years of hurt and were over the moon for their adopted Brazillian. He’s even revealed that winning the League Cup with Boro meant more than being a World Cup winner with Brazil, if supporters couldn’t love the man more…

Juninho will go down as one of Boro’s greatest ever players and is always mentioned by fans with a huge smile on their face. Even those who weren’t born back when he signed for the club, or as he says in his accent “the cloob”, know of the legacy the Brazilian brought during his three stints on Teesside. His skills are even respected and admired by fans from clubs all over the country; the best Brazilian to play in England? Arguably, yes.

It does pose the question how many children and pets in Teesside have been named after The Little Fella since 1995…

Juninho will be back in Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium for Boro's game against Blackburn | Middlesbrough FC
The iconic photo of Juninho squaring up to Phillipe Albert like a proper Boro lad. Credit: Middlesbrough FC

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