Could Scottish Premiership giants Celtic sign their new Juninho? Atletico Madrid’s La Liga starlet Rodrigo Riquelme has been linked with a shock move.
Juninho was the right man at the wrong time for Celtic.
A Brazil international who took the Premier League by storm at Middlesbrough brought his cheeky grin and sublime skill to Parkhead in the summer of 2004. But, after just 14 league appearances in the iconic green and white hoops, one of the most naturally gifted footballers ever to feature in the Scottish Premiership departed under a cloud, leaving a trail of disappointment in his wake.
A free spirit on and off the pitch, Martin O’Neil’s rigid 4-4-2 formation always looked at odds with Juninho’s enigmatic talents. It’s tempting to wonder what Neil Lennon, back in the Celtic dugout for a second spell, would have achieved if Juninho was born some 15 years later.
But, with reports linking the Scottish champions with an eye-catching move for another fleet-footed playmaker who has shone in the stripes of Atletico Madrid, Juninho’s spiritual successor could soon be on his way to Glasgow.
Though, if you ask Miguel Angel Ruiz, Atletico’s former academy director, 19-year-old Rodrigo Riquelme isn’t merely a Juninho clone. He has an explosive burst of speed that even a peak-era Brazilian couldn’t match.
“Juninho? The Brazilian was lighter but Riquelme has a fast change of pace, and Juno didn’t have that power,” said Ruiz told Goal recently.
“In my view, he is a ‘trequartista’. Either on the right, left or in the centre, but always behind the strikers.
“His change of pace is brutal and is something that could differentiate himself with others in his age group. He has speed, change of pace and ability to overpower an opponent in one-on-one situations.”
The 2014 La Liga champions will be desperate to hang onto a player some have tipped to fill an Antoine Griezmann-shaped void at the heart of Diego Simeone’s team. But, according to Marca, Celtic are planning a summer swoop for Riquelme, in the knowledge that a teen sensation with a £26 million release clause will be out of contract this summer.
Can he thrive where Juninho failed on the green half of Glasgow? In Lennon, Riquelme will certainly work under a more flexible, adaptable tactician than the man who, for all his qualities, for all his trophies, failed to coax the brilliant best out of a 49-cap Brazil superstar at Celtic.