Many will have their reservations about today’s signing by the Red Bulls and with good reason. Juninho Pernambucano is way beyond the right side of 35. In fact, he will be 38 years old this January. His first year as a professional was 1991. To put that into perspective, Color Me Badd, C+C Music Factory and Paula Abdul held three of the top ten singles for the year while Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the box office with Terminator 2, Judgment Day.
That was a long time ago.
Still, there is reason to believe Juninho isn’t just another one in a litany of over-30 players looking to cash a paycheck on Major League Soccer’s dime. The Campeonato Brasileiro is one of the strongest leagues in South America – and many may argue the strongest. His team, Vasco da Gama finished fifth in the league table. Therein, Juninho was an impactful figure, leading the team in assists (8) while trailing only Alecsandro’s 9 goals for the team’s lead (Juninho had 7).
Not bad for an old timer.
As for his place in New York, Juninho offers a good one year stop gap at the right price. Here are the basics on New York’s latest acquisition, after the jump:
PUTTING IT INTO PERSPECTIVE …
It is always difficult to get past age when a team signs a player that is so close to 40. However, there needs to be some perspective put to the situation.
For one, the Red Bulls are not looking towards the long term with this deal. As always, 2013 will be another “win now” season. Since the loss of Amado Guevara, the team has lacked a central creative force in the middle. Many have tried to fill those shoes and have fallen short – including New York’s latest Designated Player, Tim Cahill.
With Juninho, you are getting that stop gap. Much like Juan Roman Riquelme, the Brazilian playmaker may be short on speed but high on accuracy and distribution; two things New York has desperately sought from it’s midfield since 2007. He will open up lanes for Henry in ways that will force the French legend to go up top – and stay there. But, much like Riquelme, Juninho isn’t known for his back tracking ability on defense. This is where his midfield partner will be key – whether it’s Cahill or Dax McCarty.
Speaking of his place on the field, Juninho isn’t just a central starter. For much of the year with Vasco, Juninho played a Beckham style role for the team, featuring on the wings and drifting towards the middle.
This is key. Rafa Marquez created a glut in the midfield and Juninho fills the remaining gap. However, his ability to work the left hand side can create an opportunity to keep Cahill and McCarty in the middle while adding Juninho to the attack. What this does for the future of Joel Lindpere remains to be seen.
Juninho is a lethal dead ball specialist. After the shot shanked around the world by Roy Miller against DC United and Thierry Henry’s reluctance to step up to the plate in a such vital playoff situation, Juninho’s acquisition will assure that this situation never happens again (well, at least this year).
Of course, he will be a key distributor. He will also add to the leadership of the team. With Vasco, Juninho is a revered legend. In fact, the cash strapped club offered an ambassadorship to the midfielder apart from his player salary to stay aboard. His ability as a midfield general led then-Lyon boss Gerard Houllier to name the Brazilian his team captain.
All in all, he is plugging vital holes that the team desperately needs filled.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
Even at his age, a man of Juninho’s pedigree will demand a high salary. The good thing here is that the Red Bulls were able to acquire him and avoid the Designated player tag. Now, it is difficult to gauge just how they did so; MLS employs a clandestine system when it comes to the details of player signings. It will either be a sweetheart deal ala Youri Djorkaeff, who joined the Metrostars at a reduced price or an allocation laden deal which allowed the Red Bulls to circumvent the tag.
All in all, New York have added a player of world class quality without giving up it’s newly vacated DP slot – meaning the potential for more high impact signings remain.
And of course, you have to look at the local aspect. Sure, Juninho is far from the big name a Kaka or Ronaldinho represent, but he is the first Brazilian of substance brought into the side that just may draw the interest of the Portuguese heavy community. Of course, one would be foolish to expect a Beckham-type overflow in the Arena, but it is a good acquisition that gives a nod to the locals.
With all that said, can the positives outweigh Juninho’s age? Will he be able to endure in the physical environment of MLS? Let me know below.