The Premier League is set to award a multitude of honours celebrating 20 years of the greatest league in the world. One of the awards is set to go to the Premier League’s best player over the course of its existence, and so we thought it would be fun to carry out our very own The North East HUB Blog award for the very best of the best in recognition of some of the outstanding talents to have graced North East football.
It wouldn’t be fair to just award one player the accolade, and would no doubt cause debate about how and why this player was greater than X, Y or Z from another club, so instead I’ve awarded a player from Newcastle United, Sunderland and Middlesbrough as the greatest to play for their club, whilst leaving the debate of an overall winner to the fans of each club.
The awards will be split over three separate articles to ensure each player gets the space they deserve – over the last couple of weeks we announced Alan Shearer as Newcastle United’s greatest Premier League player, and Kevin Phillips picked up the award for Sunderland. In our final week we take a look at Middlesbrough and a little genius who lit up the Premier League.
Middlesbrough – Juninho
There’s a few diminutive players in Premier League history that have really stood out as being something special – Zola at Chelsea, Di Canio at West Ham, and Middlesbrough fans were lucky enough to have their own in Juninho Paulista, a Brazilian attacking midfielder with all the samba flair and grace that you would expect from an international player who earned 49 caps for football’s most skilful nation.
Juninho began his career at Ituano FC – a small club in Sao Paula. Scoring and picking up the man of the match award against their more illustrious neighbours though earned him a move to Sao Paulo in 1993. The midfielder went on to huge success at the club, picking up many trophies in his two seasons there, and like so many before him a move to Europe was on the cards – however many raised an eyebrow or two as he signed on the dotted line at newly promoted Middlesbrough FC, who having only just been promoted to the Premier League seemed a strange choice for the much coveted player. The North East club was fiercely ambitious though and a combination of Bryan Robson and Steve Gibson persuaded the little Brazilian that Middlesbrough were the right club at the right time for him to show his talent on the European stage.
It could be argued that despite the club’s ambitions they never really lived up to what they set out to achieve – but despite Juninho leaving the club with nothing more than FA and League Cup runner up medals, and relegation (due to Middlesbrough being deducted three points) to show for his endeavours, he had an amazing bond with the club and its fans. So much so that he returned not once, but twice and finally picked up a winners medal in 2004 as Middlesbrough won the League Cup under future England boss Steve McClaren.
Unfortunately Juninho never quite managed to reach the heights he achieved in his first spell at the club during his second and third time there – the after affects of a career threatening leg break at Athletico Madrid (the team he signed for after Boro were relegated) preventing him from returning as the player he once was, but he was still a useful footballer and will always be remembered for some magnificent goals, skill and team work that really inspired and wowed fans and the next generation of footballers alike.
As usual I did a small survey of fans to find out what their favourite moment was, and although there were many different answers the one that stood out for me was Juninho’s final appearance in a Middlesbrough shirt. In July 2011 the little Brazilian made a 35 minute cameo appearance in their final pre-season game against PSV Eindhoven, with some fans travelling hundreds of miles just to say farewell during his lap of honour after the match had finished. That bond between such a fantastically talented footballer, and the fans was a truly humbling moment, showing that brilliant players aren’t all prima-donnas, and that sometimes a player can love and appreciate the fans just as much as they do him.
For being a fantastic and exciting footballer, and also being a model professional and role model we award Juninho the greatest Middlesbrough player of the Premier League era award.
Please note that this will be my last article for The North East Hub. I hope you have enjoyed my articles and I would personally like to thank Donna for giving me the opportunity to write for the blog. It’s been fun and I wish the blog a great deal of future success. Andy Hudson
Many thanks to Christopher Powlay for supplying the pic for this article