Thus began a transfer trail of Phileas Fogg proportions for Robson, who last week got his young man for pounds 4.75m, pulling off one of the most astonishing coups in the history of the English game. Brazil's No10 coming to Teesside? And with his best years ahead of him?
Robson may have noted the name but was in no position to proceed. Promotion to the Premiership and a share of its riches was a year away. Then came last summer's Umbro Cup and this little figure, his shirt too big for him, dancing through defences, which Robson witnessed at first hand as assistant coach to England.
He got word from an agent in Brazil that Juninho was still debating a new contract with Sao Paulo, thinking that a move to Europe might benefit his career and, no doubt, his bank balance. Robson now had funds available.
He decided on the personal touch and, in July, flew to Brazil with the Middlesbrough chief executive Keith Lamb to try to persuade Sao Paulo to sell. During a two-day stay he received little encouragement, though he did speak with Juninho's father, Oswaldo Giroldo, a 46-year-old sales representative for a steel manufacturing company. "At least we made our approach known," Robson said. Lamb stayed on, leaving behind an offer of US$5m and asking to be kept informed should the club change their mind.
They did. On Saturday 30 September, an hour before the kick-off of their match at home to Blackburn, Lamb received a phone call from an Italian agent acting on Juninho's behalf. His client had not accepted Sao Paulo's terms for a new contract and the club were willing to listen to an offer, though it would have to be increased with Juninho's stock having risen during the Copa America, which Robson had watched covetously on television. Robson and Lamb decided to fly out again.
Easier said than done. All flights to Brazil from Heathrow were fully booked on Monday 2 October, so Robson, Lamb and an interpreter, Johnny Paladini, flew to New York and thence to Sao Paulo, arriving at 6.30am on the Tuesday. They were summoned to a meeting with the club president, Fernando Casal de Rey, at 4pm that afternoon.
Robson was somewhat surprised to find seven people around the boardroom table; the various presidents of the other sports affiliated to the Sao Paulo club, whose consitution allows their presence in negotiations. And some negotiations they were; on and off for nine hours that night. Only two hours were possible on the next day, Wednesday, as Sao Paulo had a home match that night, against Portugeisa, which they won 1-0, watched by the Middlesbrough party. Juninho created the goal.
Talks resumed at 11am on the Thursday, "the main day," according to Robson. The sticking point was not so much the fee, rather when Middlesbrough could pay it. The offer was now $7.5m. Finally they offered half now, half later. Sao Paulo were not so sure - Arsenal and Internazionale had by now faxed their interest. The dialogue ended at 8pm. "I was disappointed. I thought that was the end of it," said Robson. Then came a phone call to his hotel later than night from Fernando Casal de Rey. With a few minor changes to the deal, they consented after all. Robson could hardly wait to get to the Sao Paulo club lawyer's office at midday the following morning to exchange contracts. Still there was a hitch; Lamb wanted the contract translated from the Portuguese.
At last it arrived, was agreed and at 8.45pm on Friday 6 October, Oswaldo Giroldo Junior became a Middlesbrough player. Officials of both clubs hugged. Lamb phoned his chairman Steve Gibson, whom he had been getting up at 5am every day to telephone at his Portuguese holiday retreat and said: "You've bought a Brazilian."
Later that night, elated, Robson met Juninho for the first time, and after a press conference in which Lamb presented the player with a Boro shirt, they spent four hours talking over the move. Juninho had been waiting at the hotel all day.