Juninho Pernambucano

Brazilian midfielder Juninho leaves New York Red Bulls

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“Ah man, we never even got to see one of his awesome free kicks…”

That is likely to be the response from fans of Major League Soccer and the New York Red Bulls after today’s announcement that Brazilian legend Juninho has agreed to cancel his contract.

After only half a season in MLS, Juninho didn’t do much to endear himself to Red Bulls fans. Reports concerning Juninho’s retirement at the end of this season has surfaced recently, but there’s no need to worry about that now.

The 38-year-old former Lyon star was always a questionable acquisition by New York. Just check out Steve Davis’ take on Juninho when he signed way back in December 2012.

Ahem, told you so.

The fact that we never got to see one of those magnificent dipping free kicks which Juninho made his trademark whilst at Lyon upsets me. And Steve. And probably most soccer fans out there. Because boy, they were spectacular.

It seemed that every time I watched a Lyon game on the European highlights show as a youngster, Juninho would arch some incredible free kick into the top corner. The bend he got on those babies make Cristiano Ronaldo’s set pieces look pedestrian.

(MORE: Dead ball specialist Juninho signs for New York Red Bulls)

But the fact that I can recall Juninho’s brilliance way back to my early childhood, is in essence the main problem here. Major League Soccer is full of tremendous athletes, who play throughout the summer in hot conditions, on turf fields and it is an extremely physically demanding league. Juninho is 38. He is slight. And he doesn’t want to do much running anymore. He is a playmaker. His type may be dying out in MLS.

On his official Facebook page Juninho spoke of his decision to cancel his contract with New York. “I am leaving New York because I wasn’t playing well. Also I wasn’t getting along with the manager.”

He also said that he would return to his homeland to think about his next move.

You can’t blame the Red Bulls for giving him a try. In theory, having a dead ball specialist on hand and someone to sit in behind the front two and create chances for Thierry Henry and Fabian Espindola was a magical idea. But that’s all it was. In fact Juninho got more yellow cards (5) than assist (4) and didn’t score once in his 13 matches with New York.

We said it on this blog when Juninho signed. Quote: “Debilitating heat and burden of soccer-combat in a highly physical league, can sometimes leave technical types ill equipped to deal with it all. We’ll see.”

We did see. And we were right here at Pro Soccer Talk. But that does nothing to numb the pain of never seeing Juninho Pernambucano bend one of those magical free kicks into an MLS net.

Oh well, can’t win ’em all. Best of luck in your future endeavors, Juninho.

Video: Juninho kicks dead ball into Jimmy Nielsen’s chest; Nielsen sells it

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The uneven start to Juninho Pernambucano’s Major League Soccer career took an unexpected twist on Wednesday, though you’re going to read two distinct interpretations of this incident as it’s discussed in the coming days. Some people are going to focus on Juninho’s transgression. Others will dwell on the piece of impromptu theater Jimmy Nielsen performed at Red Bull Arena.

Let’s set the scene. It’s late in Harrison, and for almost 80 minutes, the Red Bulls have been trying to equalize Sporting’s 13th minute opener. Ahead of a late goal kick, Juninho goes to flip the ball back to Nielsen and decides to put a little extra on it. The ball ends up nailing Nielsen right below the collarbone, earning the Red Bull midfielder a straight red card.

As a television lawyer might say, those facts are undisputed. The different interpretations start with Juninho’s intentions. A sympathetic sort might think Juninho just tried pop the ball up by coming down underneath it. When he got too much of the ball, he inadvertently fires his “chip” into Nielsen’s chest.

That’s a reach given Juninho’s skill level. What’s more likely: That he hit the ball at Nielsen out of frustration with the keeper’s time-wasting? Or he mishit the ball and it happened to end up in the guy’s chest?

Given Nielsen’s response, you can see some people wishing the latter were true. The guy collapses, rolls around as if the ball nailed him in the face. It sure doesn’t look that way in the replay, though Nielsen does take Juninho’s attempt to avoid time-wasting and turns it against him. His act gets Juninho tossed and leaves the clock running for nearly two minutes, time Allen Chapman thankfully added at the end.

No doubt, whether he intended it or not, that’s a red card for Juninho. But seeing those shots of Nielsen lying on his side, eyes closed as if he just got George John’d, you can’t help but feel a little frustrated by the farce.

Juninho was going to get red carded, and any time you spend on the ground is just going to get tacked on at the end. Just get up already.

Here’s the footage:

David Beckham closing in on return; decision to come next week

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David Beckham’s been out of the news for so long, it started to seem like retirement was more likely than return. Whereas the former LA Galaxy star said he had one more challenge left in him after this year’s MLS Cup final, a month passed without word from the icon. At 37 years old, the man should be afforded time to make his decision, but with his family enjoying themselves in London (making appearances at events like this weekend’s West Ham-Manchester United match), it started to look like life after soccer was finally here.

Not so, says a Wednesday report from England’s Press Association. The brief update says Beckham will make a decision next week after receiving offers from 12 different clubs:

Beckham, 37, has been made offers from Europe, South America, North America, South Africa, Russia, China and the Middle East – though it is understood not from Qatar.

The report goes on to say a return to England is not in the cards (links to Queens Park Rangers, West Ham and Manchester United set to fall flat).

Likewise, it seems very unlikely Beckham returns to North America, having already said he doesn’t plan on playing in Major League Soccer (though it would be interesting to see Beckham on Club América).

If Russia’s among the suitors, you have to think Anzhi Makhachkala’s calling. In China, league champion Guangzhou Evergrande are most likely (though they’re not the only big spenders in the CSL).

Who knows what Beckham could make in the Middle East (it only takes one Shiekh with a crush), but that destination along with South Africa seems unlikely.

The most intriguing to me is Brazil, and not only because fellow set piece master Juninho Pernambucano just came the other way. Multiple clubs in the Campeonato could make it worth Beckham’s financial while, and although Brazil isn’t the usual landing spot for expatriate Britons, Beckham isn’t your normal English player. He’s played in La Liga, Serie A, and the Premier League, and among the leagues listed as his latest suitors, only Brazil’s comes close to approaching that level of prestige.

But when Beckham came to Los Angeles, league prestige wasn’t his priority. It was a lifestyle choice. It was a business choice. He was embracing a new challenge.

Depending on how he and his family view the East Asia, China would check all those boxes, too.

So if forced to rank the Press Association’s list based on my ill-informed views, I’d have China and Brazil as co-favorites; Europe, Russia, and the Middle East on the next level; North America and South Africa as very unlikely.

Lyon, YouTube legend Juninho Pernambucano linked with New York Red Bulls

Juninho Pernambucano (L) of Brazilian Va
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This might not be on Major League Soccer’s Christmas list, but it would make a heck of a stocking stuffer.

A rumor reported (in Portuguese) has former Lyon icon Juninho Pernambucano landing in Harrison next season, with his former head coach at Lyonnais, Red Bull’s Head of Global Soccer Gerard Houllier, eager to bring the free kick master to Major League Soccer.

And when I say free kick master, I mean congratulations, your life just changed forever:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL1bK34mPjQ]

I don’t know which one I like more. The one where Oliver Kahn almost impales himself on the right post? The slow-mo capture of the shot with almost zero spin (literally)? Or the 112 goals from 40 yards out into the upper corners? (Don’t bother counting. I’m right.)

The guy makes Beckham look like a potser.

Currently with Vasco de Gama in Brazil, the 37-year-old has been rumored to be leaving the Rio-based club. Officials at Vasco say they won’t let him leave to another club in Brazil. Given the Houllier connection, New York seems as logical a place as … well, almost any other club in the world. This is, after all, just a rumor.

The thing about Juninho, at this point in his career, is that he doesn’t go much else, and in a league where fitness, athleticism, strength, and industry are staples in every team, the central midfielder will likely see his contributions mitigated in open play.

There’s also the little matter of New York having three Designated Players on the books. Until they pass off Rafa Marquez’s millstone, Juninho can’t come.

Add in the fact that New York doesn’t even have a coach and the frequent use of big MLS markets as leverage in contract negotiations, there isn’t much cause for optimism. Sorry, friends. Christmas may never come.

Still, if Stoke City midfielder Charlie Adam’s corner kicks are worth £13 million alone (as Sir Alex Ferguson once said, presumably with a straight face), Juninho is at least worth some kind of Designated Player deal. If Beckham’s still a plus-contributor for the Galaxy, Juninho can be one for New York.