Who is Juninho Pernambucano?
Juninho Pernambucano is a Brazilian former footballer who is known for his stunning free-kicks in world football. He spent eight years in France playing for Olympique Lyonnais, where he won seven consecutive league titles with the club, marking one of the most dominant winning streaks in the history of European club football. Before joining Lyon in the early 2000s, Juninho had made a name for himself as one of the best players in Brazilian football. Playing for the iconic club Vasco da Gama, he earned the reputation of being an exciting midfielder and came under the spotlight for his trademark bending free-kicks. Juninho holds the record for scoring the highest number of goals from direct free-kicks, beating the record of the great Pele. His technique and ability to score long-range free-kicks put him in the category of all-time great free-kick takers in world football, with some considering him to be the best of all time. However, Juninho was not just a free-kick specialist and was a versatile player. He made 40 appearances for Brazil, scoring six goals, and won the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup in Germany as part of the national team. He currently serves as the sporting director of Olympique Lyonnais.
Childhood & Early Life
Juninho Pernambucano was born as Antônio Augusto Ribeiro Reis Jr. on January 30, 1975, in Recife, Brazil. Being born in a football-crazy nation, Juninho was no exception and duly fell in love with the sport as a young boy.
He joined the local club Sport Club do Recife as a youth footballer and spent a year at their youth camp before making the cut to the first team.
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Juninho was promoted to the first team at Sport Club do Recife after a year in their academy. He was part of the club for two years before deciding to move on to the next level.
He appeared 24 times for Sport Club do Recife before signing with the iconic Brazilian club Vasco da Gama in 1995. He went on to spend six years at the club, appearing in 111 competitive matches and scoring 26 goals.
He won two Campeonato Brasileiro Série A league titles in 1997 and 2000. Apart from the league titles, Juninho also won four more titles with Vasco da Gama, including a Copa Libertadores in 1998.
European clubs always keep an eye on Latin American footballers, looking out for rare and exciting talents. Juninho, at the age of 26, looked like a player in his prime, ready to take European football by storm.
In 2001, Olympique Lyonnais, who had never won the French League, showed ambition and decided to acquire him. Juninho was signed by the club in a pursuit to win the league for the first time.
Juninho brought experience with him to the club which had several exciting young players. The balance of youth and experience at the club made the fans hopeful for finally winning the prestigious league for the first time after finishing second the previous year.
What followed his arrival at the club is glorious history! Juninho played a crucial role as part of Lyon in the next few years of its golden period, scoring 75 goals and providing 47 assists, winning seven consecutive league titles on the way.
After spending eight years at Lyon, Juninho left the club as a free agent, despite having a year left on his contract. He joined Al-Gharafa, a top Qatari club, for a two-year deal. He won the domestic treble with the club and finished the season as the league’s best player.
Juninho ended his two years at Al-Gharafa and returned to his homeland only to make a comeback with his former club Vasco da Gama. He stayed with the club for a year and scored a few of his trademark free-kick goals, including one against their fiercest rival, Corinthians.
He tried his luck in the United States after deciding to join the Major League Soccer side New York Red Bulls. However, things didn’t go as planned and after 13 appearances for the club, both parties agreed on cancelling the contract and part ways.
He made another comeback to Vasco da Gama in July 2013 and represented them in 21 games.
Juninho was somewhat unlucky trying to break into the national side which was experiencing a golden period in the 2000s. Despite having a brilliant club career, Juninho failed to make the cut for the national sides that played in the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the 2004 Copa America.
He did, however, appear in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Unfortunately, Brazil lost against France in the quarterfinals and Juninho announced his international retirement.
Juninho hung up his boots in 2013. Six years later, in 2019, he was appointed the director of football by his former French club Lyon.
Family & Personal Life
Juninho had been in a relationship with Renata Laet Azevedo Reis for a few years before getting married.