Football: Boro move to allay fears over foreign affairs

Simon Turnbull on the Teesside club who are trying to sort out problems with their Brazilian contingent
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The Independent Online
One of Boro's boys from Brazil was paraded down at the Riverside Stadium yesterday - not, however, the one the media, and indeed the Middlesbrough management, had gathered to see.

The frizzy-haired employee Bryan Robson calls "Emma" was visiting a sick aunt. It may have seemed very Jane Austen, but the ailing relative happened to be somewhere in the north of Brazil.

In the absence, without leave, of the midfielder from Rio, Juninho was wheeled in front of the cameras and tape recorders to prove that Middlesbrough still had at least one boy from Brazil.

Whether Emerson will return to join him remains doubtful, even though Robson left ajar a door to possible conciliation.

"I have not put a time on Emerson's return," the Middlesbrough manager said, contradicting threats of legal action if the 24-year-old failed to report for training yesterday.

"His auntie has been taken ill and he's gone to see her. That's the latest I know. There are bound to be some problems in a club which has 50 players. But you don't expect players to go against contracts, especially when they are just a few months into them."

Emerson, who has played just 14 games since his pounds 4m summer move from Porto, intends to make his premature separation from Middlesbrough a permanent one, citing his wife's failure to take to the Teesside air.

His agent, Da Silva Vega, was in Italy yesterday, negotiating on his behalf with Parma. Carlo Ancelotti, coach of the Serie A club, is keen to invest the pounds 4.5m Parma received from the sale of Gianfranco Zola to Chelsea in the uncapped Brazilian.

The situation is also being closely monitored by Benfica, Roma and Barcelona, under whose coach, Bobby Robson, Emerson played at Porto last season. Middlesbrough, however, insist he is not for sale.

Indeed, Steve Gibson, the Middlesbrough chairman, has warned he may sue if Emerson fails to return to Teesside. He may also seek a ban by Fifa, the game's world governing body.

"Emerson has signed a four year contract with us," Gibson said. "His future is here and he won't be allowed to leave."

Given the circumstances, Juninho's choice of words yesterday were perhaps unfortunate. "I have two years more," he said. "I don't want out."

They did little to dispel the belief that being contracted to Middlesbrough, for the foreign legionnaires at least, is some kind of internment. It was to counter such a growing perception, and to deny in public escape plans attributed to him in an Italian newspaper, that Juninho spoke in public yesterday.

With Branco gone, Emerson likely to stay away, Fabrizio Ravanelli reportedly unhappy, and Nick Barmby departed because of a disparity in his pay packet, Middlesbrough's gamble of hiring highly paid foreigners seems to be backfiring.

They stand 15th in the Premiership table, with one point from their last six matches - nine places below their station when Juninho started the influx in November last year. Jamie Pollock, the local lad pushed out by Emerson, was ironically in Bolton yesterday, looking to secure a quick release from his Spanish club, Osasuna.

Robin Nichols started following The Boro, as they are known on Teesside, in the days of Foggon, Spraggon and Hickton. Editor of the fanzine Fly Me To The Moon, he insisted yesterday that revolt is far from the minds of Middlesbrough supporters.

"They are just bewildered," he said. "But a lot of fans think people are taking the mickey. There was always resentment that these big name foreign players were coming to Middlesbrough.

"Nobody knows what to think at the moment. We just don't know what's going on. There are so many rumours flying about, and they're all bad."

Robson took the extraordinary step yesterday of publicly refuting one of them: his resignation. His message was delivered on Middlesbrough's "Livewire" telephone line, which also trumpeted the launch of a book charting the club's last 10 years.

"From Doom to Boom," it seems, was a premature choice of title.