Football: Why Brazil aren't missing Juninho

Simon Turnbull reports on the rave reviews prompted by dazzling Djalminha
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All week the sports pages in Sao Paulo have been filled with the speculation. Will Brazil's No 10 stay put? Or will he move to Spain? Juninho, meanwhile, has barely been mentioned.

The "little junior", as his name translates from Portuguese, is big news in Middlesbrough and in greater Britain. Back home, however, it is a different story. In Juninho's home city the name on everyone's lips, and on every back page, is the one which has replaced his own on Mario Zagallo's national team-sheet. While England has waited for news of Boro's brilliant Brazilian - is he bound for Madrid or Manchester? - Sao Paulans have been preoccupied with Djalma Feitosa Dia, or Djalminha, as the man who has assumed the treasured yellow No 10 shirt is more popularly known.

Djalminha has eclipsed Juninho as the rising star of Brazilian football with his dazzling midfield displays with Palmeiras, the Sao Paulo club which gave English football its first Brazilian (Mirandinha, of whom Jim Smith, his manager at Newcastle, famously said, "he was more concerned about his pig farm back home".) Spanish eyes have taken note. Indeed, it was reported in Spain on Thursday that Deportivo La Coruna had signed Djalminha for pounds 4.3m. The story in Sao Paulo, however, is that the 26-year- old will remain a Sao Paulo player until after he appears in the World Cup shop window in France next summer - unless Deportivo up the bidding towards pounds 7.5m.

A passing interest from Manchester would not be surprising, if Leandro Loyola's appraisal of the wanted man is noted. "Djalminha is not so much like Juninho," Loyola, football correspondent of Noticias Populares, mused. "He is more like Eric Cantona." The comparison, it must be said, is largely founded on a temperament as volatile as the volcanic Cantona vintage; Djalminha was released by his first club, Flamengo, after coming to blows with a team-mate and stormed off home in his kit when he was sent off for bad-mouthing the referee in a Brazilian Cup tie last week. But, as Zagallo pointed out, in support of the squad he has chosen for the Tournoi de France and the Copa America, there are functional football differences between Djalminha and Juninho.

"Djalminha is more what we call the classic type of Brazilian player," Zagallo said. "He is not as fast and he does not play as fast. He surveys the field and then picks his move. He is also more of an attacking player. Juninho is moving all the time; he comes back to help the midfield and the defence. We do not need that because we play with two defensive midfield players, Dunga and Marcio Santos.

"Djalminha has been playing better this season and he is in the team now. He will get his chance in France and in Bolivia when we play in the Copa America. But that does not mean Juninho will not go to the World Cup. We have one year to go and many more tests before then. Nobody has a place in that squad yet, not even Ronaldo."

To force his way in, Juninho knows he must spend his next club season on view to Zagallo. The Champions' League stage a move to Old Trafford would provide may yet prove an attraction; Juninho and his family have settled contentedly in the north of England. But the live transmission of Spanish League matches in Brazil could be the decisive factor. Atletico Madrid claim to have agreed terms already with the player's father, Oswaldo Giroldo, though Juninho - on holiday with his mother and sister in Rio - has yet to commit himself.

Middlesbrough are unlikely to rubber-stamp a transfer for less than pounds 12m, and Atletico's latest bid did not stretch to eight figures. Boro's trophy cabinet remains empty but their cupboard is far from bare. They still have their prized asset: their pounds 4.75m investment from Sao Paulo.

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