February 26, 2013
GETTING HIS (FREE) KICKS
Juninho is a master at turning set pieces directly into goals
By Michael Lewis
|Juninho: "Every [Brazilian] team will have three or four excellent free kickers. It requires talent, but it also requires exhaustive training. It's a repetition of movements."
Keith Furman/First Row Photos
NEW YORK -- He makes it all look so easy.
With the ball situated some 22 yards out on the right side, Juninho strikes the ball almost effortlessly into the upper left corner of the goal out of the range of the goalkeeper.
Juninho, however, says it was never easy finding the magic on those set pieces. It has taken him years and years of practice to perfect his free kicks.
"Free kicks are part of the Brazilian soccer culture," the veteran midfielder said at Red Bulls media day at Pier 59 Studios on Monday night. "Every team will have three or four excellent free kickers. It requires talent, but it also requires exhaustive training. It's a repetition of movements."
The 38-year-old Brazilian might produce magic with his ability on dead-ball situations, whether it is scoring off a free or penalty kick or setting up a teammate on a corner kick. But he stressed there was no magic in mastering such an important part of the game.
"This is a result of a lifelong of training," he said. "Throughout my career at practices, I always stay longer and practice my free kicks. I do less now because it's risky practice."
He had plenty of role models. Juninho's favorites were Zico, who confounded goalkeepers when he starred with Flamengo and the Brazilian national side, and Roberto Dinamite, the current Vasco da Gama president who also was lethal on set pieces for that club team and for the national team. Juninho enjoyed two Vasco tenures, playing during Dinamite's reign.
Juninho, who is expected to give the Red Bulls a lethal weapon they haven't had in years, estimated that he had scored 40 goals off free kicks during his seven-year French Ligue 1 career and 76 goals from direct kicks in his 19-year career. That doesn't count goals scored off of corner kicks or any goals that were roced during the run of play via his pin-point passing.
"I hope I'll score some for the Red Bulls as well," he said. "My goal, however, is to play well to play with fun. Free Kicks are just something that can happen during the game."
While learning the finer points of the game and free kicks growing up in Recife, Brazil, Juninho admitted a few things around his parents' home had to be sacrificed.
"I've broken a few things at home," he said. "Our home was very small."
He was the youngest of five siblings, so being the baby of the family certainly had its merits.
"I was a little bit more protected by my brothers," he said. "My brother very easily saw that I had talent in soccer. They protected me from my parents."
Now, Major League Soccer goalkeepers and opposing defenses might need some projecting from Juninho and his free kicks.