Ex-Aston Villa boss John Gregory shares how close they came to Juninho swoop

John Gregory

Juninho enjoyed three remarkable spells with Middlesbrough but, if it wasn't for Atletico Madrid, he could have been a legend at Aston Villa too.


Even twenty years on, a select few players still transcend their era and, in some ways, define the rise of the Premier League. Juninho Paulista is one such player.

An impish, diminutive playmaker reared in San Paolo yet made in Middlesbrough, the Brazilian remains one of the most influential, instantly recognisable figures ever to grace the English game.

Therefore, you can understand why former Aston Villa boss John Gregory remains immensely frustrated about their failure to snap up a bonafide legend in the minds of both hearts and neutrals, The Villa View reports.

“Juninho was actually sat in our office. He actually chartered himself a plane. I went and picked him up from Birmingham Airport, he got out of this little four-seater plane and I took him down to Villa Park,” Gregory told The Villa View.

“He sat and talked with the chairman. [Atletico] Madrid owed him quite a substantial amount of money and he was gonna sign for us if they paid him the money.

John Gregory

“If they’d have paid him the money he would have come but they wouldn’t. Madrid actually said to us ‘if you pay the money then we’ll let him come to Villa’. Which obviously we refused to do.

“He was very excited about coming to our club. It was Madrid’s problem, not ours.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Juninho returned for a second of three spells with Middlesbrough on loan from Atletico in 1999/2000, cementing his place in the club’s Hall of Fame for all eternity.

Juninho Paulista - Middlesbrough

However, that thrilling debut campaign, where the Brazilian dazzled and danced through opposition defences at will in 1994/95, will forever remain etched in Premier League history.

Although you wonder whether things would have been the same had he completed that move to Villa Park a few months before the Millennium. Would he still be the same Middlesbrough legend? Or would he have earned a place in the hearts of Villa fans too?

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