When Juninho joined Middlesbrough in October 1995, it was a transfer that played out on Ceefax to widespread disbelief. Before then, Premier League imports tended to be outcasts, ageing stars or those who couldn’t make it in Serie A.
But Juninho was Brazil’s No.10. And the day I saw him score his first goal for Boro was the day I saw possibly the greatest goal I’d ever seen. Only it wasn’t Juninho’s goal.
Manchester City’s Georgian midfielder Georgi Kinkladze was racking up the numbers in war-torn Tbilisi when the big clubs came knocking. After training with Real Madrid came trials in Germany and even a loan spell in Argentina with Boca Juniors.
How he ended up at Franny Lee’s Manchester City, then, is anyone’s guess.
Middlesbrough came back from a goal down to beat City 4-1 that day – but the scoreline wasn’t the most memorable thing. Neither was the brace from rosy-cheeked man-child Nick Barmby, the solo goal by Phil Stamp (!), or even Juninho breaking his duck with a tap-in.
When, after 15 minutes, Kinkladze took the ball on his chest from a throw-in just inside the Boro half, he scampered inside Juninho, seemingly going nowhere. He quickly turned and roamed forward as Stamp closed him down, then cut in with his left foot to put the defender straight on his arse.
What he did next made the Boro defence look like it was being controlled by a video game player who can’t select the right defender. It was like Messi vs four Jerome Boatengs. Only it wasn’t four Jerome Boatengs: it was Stamp, Phil Vickers, Craig Liddle and Nigel Pearson.
With a couple of subtle feints, Kinkladze turned the Boro backline into nonsense. One defender pathetically stuck out his leg as the Georgian cut inside with his left foot again. Suddenly, he was in the penalty area.
The next defender fell over in front of him while another wandered in a circle looking confused, unable to understand what was happening. Kinkladze stroked the ball into the bottom right corner with his magic left foot and wheeled away to celebrate, leaving the Riverside dumbfounded.
Sadly for Georgi, Manchester’s City defence was worse than Boro’s and his moment of genius was irrelevant.
And that pattern would repeat itself throughout the season. Kinkladze’s smooth skills and goals brought him cult status in the blue half of Manchester, but they weren’t enough to save City from the drop.
While you're here, why not take advantage of our brilliant new subscribers' offer? Get 5 copies of the world's greatest football magazine for just £5 – the game's greatest stories and finest journalism direct to your door for less than the cost of a London pint. Cheers!
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.