Bigsoccerhead: No Samba for Juninho in New York
It was never going to be a holy matrimony; thus, news that Juninho Pernambucano and the New York Red Bulls agreed to part ways shouldn’t leave anyone in a stupor.
Of course, Juninho will take much of the flack. Even in his late thirties, a player of his pedigree was expected to fare much better than he did during his short spell in New York.
However, the reality is that there’s plenty of blame to go around, but most of it should land squarely on the Red Bulls.
Let’s start with the obvious: the Red Bulls were taking a risk by signing a player who was deep into the twilight of his career, regardless of the fact that the financial investment was relatively benign. That risk would have been discussed, and it would be safe to assume that David Beckham’s success in Los Angeles (despite his age) might have played a part in the final decision.
Still, Gerard Houllier should have known better. The Head of Global Soccer for Red Bull knows Juninho better than almost anyone, having coached him to two successive French league titles with Lyon, where the Brazilian came to prominence, and where the Frenchman named him captain.
Juninho’s success in New York depended on one of two factors: either he had to impose himself physically, or he would have to play in a system that relieved him of his defensive duties. Neither was accomplished.
Even in his prime, Juninho was never a physical stalwart, let alone during his stint with the Red Bulls, in a league where athleticism easily trumps skill. The MLS game seemed to bypass the Brazilian, and the Red Bulls clearly lacked dynamism when he started, especially when faced with prototypical box-to-box opponents; but that wasn´t necessarily his fault, even if he may have believed that the MLS was going to be the proverbial walk in the park.
Juninho blossomed at Lyon because much of the unheralded grunt work in the midfield was done by players like Jeremy Toulalan and Kim Kallstrom. As deep lying midfielders in a 4-2-3-1, Toulalan and Kallstrom allowed Juninho the freedom to roam in the midfield in more of a playmaking role, which suited his passing abilities. That was not the case with the Red Bulls, and it could explain why Eric Krakauer covers the New York Red Bulls for Football.com and can be followed on Twitter@bigsoccerheadNY