Football: Battle of the little big men

Howard Wilkinson, the FA's technical director, assesses the rich talents of the Cup final rivals who can light up Wembley
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First impressions

I'm sure he's surprised a lot of people in Italy because he's done a lot better over here than his performances over there would have suggested. He settled well and quickly into the Premiership.


The Brazilians always said he was destined for the top wherever he played. He too impressed with the way he settled and reproduced his best form. People felt he was too frail, but he's full of energy.

Tactical differences

If you drew a line across the middle of the Chelsea team, Zola would operate nearer the front player or between the midfield players and the front ones. He is not seen so often doing the sort of deep defensive work that Juninho seems to enjoy.


He seems to have the licence, capacity and desire to go wherever he wants. In some games it seems that Bryan Robson has told the rest of the team that Juninho must have every other pass. There's not an area of the pitch on which he doesn't seem to be at home.

Special strengths

Both players have touch, vision and change of pace. There is also power and accuracy of shot and sense of opportunity at free-kicks. I don't know whether it's natural or whether he's worked on it but Zola's positional play is very good. He seems to know where to go to make life difficult for his opponents. He says to himself "Well I'll go and take him into an area where he's not used to playing and see how he likes that." He's able to find the spaces and look at the formation of another team and the way they're playing and pop himself into the place where he can most conveniently get the ball. But he doesn't usually hold it as long as Juninho.


I wouldn't say that either of them has electric speed, but they do have a tremendous change of pace. That change of pace could make all the difference in the Cup final. I sometimes wonder whether whereas Zola seems to think things out, Juninho, because of his energy, doesn't have time to think. He finds himself where he is because that energy has taken him there. It's a bit like the film of the Jack Russell terrier chasing around the pitch with the ball and never losing it. You don't take the ball from Juninho, he loans it to you and wants it back... even from his own players.



Next question.

How will they play at Wembley?

He's played there before though not as recently as Juninho. He has said that even before he came here one of his dreams was to play at Wembley, and the game is on Italian TV. He's used to playing in important games. He's also a very intelligent player who is going to think things out and create opportunities by knowing where to be at the right moment.


He's played at Wembley, but this is different. I have sometimes wondered whether Boro rely on him so much that, if they can't get the ball to him, they suffer. If he hadn't played against Chesterfield in the semi- final, I just wonder who they would have passed the ball to. You can imagine Ravanelli thinking, "I'll not give it to him because I'll never get it back again."

Can they be tamed?

It will be interesting to see whether Ruud Gullit and Bryan Robson decide to do something specific to counter the threat of the two players. I've always taken the view that at this level, when you ain't got the ball, you've got to stop them and win a football match. If I thought one of the opponents was so important to the opposing team as to be almost indispensable, I always wondered whether we could dispense with him (fairly of course). But it's not going to be easy. In a game I saw recently, Juninho was involved once a minute. On nine out of 10 occasions what he did with the ball had a positive outcome. If he enjoys that sort of freedom next Saturday, and that sort of success rate, then Chelsea have got a problem. You have to remember that when you talk about his success rate, you're not talking about an easy 10-yard pass, but a dribble, a one-two or a defence-splitting pass. But with Zola, he does need to have people give him the ball, whereas Juninho tends to go and get it. Zola has the advantage of having Mark Hughes's strength ahead of him, knocking the ball back, but you have to remember that Ravanelli, if he plays, is no shrinking violet. What they say about Zola

Dennis Wise (Chelsea): "I've never worked with anyone as good as him. Even in training you can't man-mark him. I've said he's got happy feet - you watch them go one way, then the other, but he's gone before you move."

Cesare Maldini (Italy coach): "He's inspirational. He is the heart of the team. He has not been improved by English football but it may have learned something from him."

Ruud Gullit (Chelsea manager): "I have said that if he can't play for some reason, we can ask somebody else to do his job, but really he gives us something extra ... especially goals. He is used to being marked, so that doesn't worry him. He is very keen to play well at Wembley - the final will be seen on Italian television."

Joe Kinnear (manager of Wimbledon, knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea in the semi-finals): "The second goal, the one he scored, was the one that finished us. It was a great goal. You can't give him space."

Glenn Hoddle (England coach): "When he played in Naples, he learned a lot from Maradona. When I was at Chelsea I wanted to buy him. I kept trying over several months but the price was too high - but you have to pay a high price for a player of his class."

Mark Hughes (Chelsea): "Because of his quality I've continued to learn about the game since leaving United. It's never too late to learn from a player like Zola. You learn things even when you watch him in training. It helped me keep my place when a lot of people thought Zola would replace me."

Alex Ferguson (Manchester United manager): "Before he came to play against us in February, I wasn't sure he was as good as people said, but after he scored early on I changed my mind. I'd started with our two full-backs wide, but he saw that straightaway and went wide - the clever little bugger caused us lots of problems."

What they say about Juninho

Ian Wilson (Middlesbrough fan who drew Bryan Robson's attention to the fact he could buy Juninho for half the price Liverpool paid for Stan Collymore): "He's the one who gave Boro a new lease of life - he can do things our supporters never dreamed of. He's just fabulous."

Bryan Robson (Boro manager): "When I first saw him closely in Sao Paulo he was being marked by a beast of a man who got away with murder compared with what defenders are allowed to do here. I knew he would cope. He plays in such a way that he can carry the attack from inside his own half. He loves playing at Wembley - remember the goal he scored against England in 1995."

Alex Ferguson: "How could anyone not name him as the player of the year? Against us he's just been magnificent - the best player I've seen in the Premier this season. You can't mark him."

Mario Zagallo (former Brazil manager): "He knows where to be and when it's necessary to play simple passes. He can be a defender as well as a maker of openings."

Gary McAllister (Coventry City): "He reminds me of Ossie Ardiles. People said he was too light and frail for English football but he proved them wrong. Juninho is the same. He was brought up in Brazilian games where they have a lot of hit-men. He was a great signing even if he plays the game on a different level to some of the other players. You can't stand off him, but when you try to tackle him he can leave you for dead."

Pontus Kaamark (who was asked to man-mark Juninho for Leicester in the Coca-Cola Cup final): "Juninho is an artist - we are in show business. Players should be a little more free to do good things. I told him it was because he was so good that I had to mark in this way. You have to do what it takes to win but the moral aspect concerns me."

Craig Hignett (Boro team-mate): "You'll never play with anyone better - if the opposition think they've kept him quiet for 15 minutes and start to relax, he'll scare them to death for the next 40."