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Cult Heroes: Juninho at Middlesbrough

There are moments in football where one single transfer can change the entire history of a club.

Whereas Johan Cruyff’s move to Barcelona in 1973 sparked a revolution in the ethos of the Catalan side which is still present to this very day, Manchester City’s decision to sign Sergio Aguero in 2011 from Atletico Madrid laid down the foundations needed for them to emerge as one of English football’s modern-day giants.

Although these two deals are incredibly high profile, it could be argued that Middlesbrough’s decision to bring in Juninho in 1995 from Sao Paulo was equally as important for the Teessiders.

Considered somewhat of a coup at the time for a side who had just been promoted to the Premier League, the arrival of the Brazil international caused a great deal of excitement amongst the club’s supporters whose expectations were understandably high.

Despite there being initial concerns about whether Juninho could cope with the pace and physicality of the top-flight, it was clear from his very first appearance that he had all the ingredients needed to become a hero at the Riverside Stadium.

Following an impressive first season for the club, the attacking midfielder went from strength to strength during the 1996-97 campaign as he formed a lethal partnership with forward Fabrizio Ravanelli which resulted in the duo scoring 46 goals between them for Boro.

Juninho’s fantastic individual performances helped his side reach both the League Cup and FA Cup final yet the Smoggies would go on to lose to Leicester City and Chelsea.

By shifting their entire focus on succeeding in these knock-out competitions, Bryan Robson’s side inadvertently sacrificed their top-flight status and thus had to sell their star player to Atletico Madrid.

Whilst in La Liga, Juninho suffered massively with injuries and ultimately failed to live up to expectations during his two year spell with Los Rojiblancos. After a season-long loan spell at Boro, the midfielder moved back to Brazil for two years before Atletico put him up for sale in 2002.

With the prospect of securing a third spell for Juninho at the Riverside too hard to resist, then-manager Steve McClaren spent £6m (via the Guardian) to lure him away from the Spanish capital.

Following a relatively quiet first season back in England, the former Sao Paulo ace helped create history for the club in 2004 as he scored a vital goal against Arsenal in the semi-finals of the League Cup which gave Boro the opportunity to avenge their 1997 defeat.

In-front of a capacity crowd at the Millennium Stadium, the Smoggies secured a famous 2-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers as goals from Joseph-Desire Job and Bolo Zenden ended a 128 year wait for a major trophy.

Having played a significant role in creating a moment that Boro fans will treasure forever, Juninho left North Yorkshire to move to Celtic in 2004 with his status as one of the club’s greatest ever players confirmed by this particular triumph.

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Article title: Cult Heroes: Juninho at Middlesbrough

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