February 25, 2013
YOUNG AT HEART
Juninho says that he might be 38, but that his body isn't that old
By Michael Lewis
|Juninho: "Red Bull offered me two years, but I chose to sign for just one year because of my age. If I still feel well I will sign for another year. We'll see."
Keith Furman/First Row Photos
NEW YORK -- Juninho wants to make one thing perfectly clear -- age is only relative.
There are concerns that the Brazilian standout midfielder might not take the physical pounding of Major League Soccer or some long distance trips that Juninho might not be accustomed to.
"I am 38-years-old but my body is not that of a 38-year-old," Juninho said at the Red Bulls media day at Pier 59 Studios on Monday night. "I've always taken care of myself and I am fortunate to be in very good physcial shape right now, so that won't be a problem.
"Of course, never in my career did I travel six hours to play a game in a country so vast, but we'll see."
Juninho was talking about the Red Bulls' trip out to pre-season training in Tucson, Ariz.
"It will be a challenge, but I will have to adjust," he said through an interpreter. But I will make every effort to play as many games possible. Physically, I've always been a player who has had to run a lot."
He pointed out that he played 50 games for Vasco da Gama in Brazil last season.
"It was a little bit too much, of course, and I suffered at the end of the season," he said. "But I'm motivated to do my best. We'll only be able to see after the season begins."
The Red Bulls' season begins on Sunday, when they travel to the great Pacific Northwest to take on the Portland Timbers.
Adding a player of Juninho's stature gives the Red Bulls different options in the midfield, including his fabulous ability to turn free kicks into goal celebrations.
"I think it changes all of the dynamics," midfielder Tim Cahill said. "He is one of the best free-kick takers in the world. Yes, he's 38, the quality, the experience, the standard of football, the person."
Cahill called Juninho a "great professional, someone who is very good with the youngsters, someone that has the knowledge of the pitch to put his foot on the ball, someone who can win us games."
The Australian international said the Red Bulls' formation might have to change "where Juninho plays high or I play high. But as as addition to the squad, it's something i've been impressed with -- he's a Brazilian superstar."
Midfielder, Dax McCarty, said he has played alongside Juninho two or three games; McCarty missed two matches at the Tucson Desert Diamond Cup with a hamstring injury. "We're still getting an understanding," he said.
But McCarty did not see that as a problem.
"I always like to say when you have a a good player playing next to you it's not so much learning and understanding; it's making sure that you get to know his tendencies because when you play with great players, they always make the game easier for you," he said.
"And the one thing I noticed from Juninho's addition is that the makes the game easier for everyone around him. He's a fantastic player. He's played at the highest level. He's got Champions League expeirence, World Cup experience."
McCarty was particularly impressed with the Brazilian's attitude, despite his grand background.
"He's a guy that's eager to learn," he said. "He wants to make sure he's taking things in. He wants to learn from guys like me, guys like Thierry, who have been in the league for a couple of years now."
While playing at Vasco da Game for the past 1 1/2 years, Juninho wasn't looking for a new team. But Red Bull Global head Gerard Houllier, who had coached the Brazilian standout on two clubs, sought out the midfielder.
Houllier offered Juninho a contract. He came to New York to meet the brass and learn more about the club.
Juninho liked what he saw and decided to sign. He turned down a two-year contract and opted for a one-year deal.
He wants to finish his career -- he is at 20 seasons and counting -- with the Red Bulls.
"I expect to finish my career here in the United States," he said.
"When the opportunity arose, I thought it was a great opportunity. Red Bull offered me two years, but I chose to sign for just one year because of my age. If I still feel well I will sign for another year. We'll see."