Juninho digs in quietly for winter

FOOTBALL: Middlesbrough's main attraction frozen out by Jones and Wimbledon but United's shows signs of imposing his talent
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The Independent Online
Wait until the weather turns, those bleak days of midwinter, then we will know about him; this was said not of Juninho but Osvaldo Ardiles, who was among those attracted to Selhurst Park by the the brilliant young Brazilian princeling's presence.

No one knows better than Juninho's most significant predecessor that suspicion runs deep in the minds of English- bred professionals. As Steve Perryman recalls, Ardiles' test of character came many years ago on a bitterly cold, drenching afternoon at Roker Park, Sunderland. "Ossie stood up so well in awful conditions that nobody ever doubted him again," he said.

Despite our love affair with Brazilian football and the exhilarating effect numerous imports have had, a perverse notion of fancy-dan foreigners persists. "He might be a very good player," said the Wimbledon manager, Joe Kinnear, who insisted that Juninho had not been earmarked for special attention during the goalless draw.

However, Kinnear, if understandably put out by the tired cliche of his team's alleged cynicism, is too wise a bird not to have accommodated the inferrence drawn from a fixture that brought cult brute, Vinnie Jones, and Juninho into conflict.

The publicised beast in Jones has never amounted to very much - any number of hard men from the past would have sorted him out quickly - but there is enough natural meanness in his nature to have raised the possibility of embarrassment.

When Jones did succumb to temptation, lunging in two-footed on the touchline, Juninho took the deft evasive action that helped him develop in leagues that are among the most violent in world football. As Ardiles stressed, that sort of experience does not make participation in English football the least bit intimidating.

In declaring that Juninho had been quiet by comparison with the standards he has confirmed since taking up an opportunity to play here, Bryan Robson referred to a sharp drop in temperature. "You have to take that into account," he said. "It's not easy for the lad, but he's got remarkable skills and I'm sure he will come to terms with our climate."

An important thing about Juninho is that awareness of simplicity you find in all outstanding footballers. There is not an ounce of self-indulgence in him. In common with most of his notable compatriots, he shares the realisation that football is above all a team game.

An impression on Saturday was that English referees are as foreign to the idea of players running the ball at defenders as the Wimbledon defenders, who went unpunished for illegal interference with Juninho's darting dribbles. "I don't know about that," Robson said discreetly, "but they are going to see a lot of it from this fella."

It was in Kinnear's mind that his team had done enough to overcome Middlesbrough's superior collective technique. "After the poor run we've had it was critical to get something out of this match," he said.

Robson could afford to be more sanguine. "My only disappointment today was that we didn't do enough to get behind the Wimbledon defence," he said. "But now we've got some big games coming up to excite the players and our supporters."

They could provide all the warmth Juninho is yearning for.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Heald; Cunningham, Elkins, Thorn, Perry; Jones, Earle, Ekoku (Gayle, 75) Leonhardsen; Holdsworth, Euell. Substitutes not used. Harford, Reeves.

Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Walsh; Cox, Morris, Vickers, Pearson, Liddle; Stamp, Pollock, Barmby, Juninho; Fjortoft. Substitutes not used: Moreno, Miller, Robson.

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

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