Date: 13 May 2017 14:43
The former World Cup-winner heralded English football above all else but says the Liverpool man would be unlikely to reject a switch to La Liga
Two months ago, Juninho Paulista was the top-scoring Brazilian in English Premier League history.
A World Cup-winner in 2002, the little midfielder became an idol in North East England, leading an exciting Middlesbrough side that had brought in a host of foreign imports including compatriot Emerson Moises, Alen Boksic and Geremi.
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Sao Paulo-born Juninho saw his record dashed this year, however, as Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho reached the 30-goal mark to become the most prolific Brazilian to have graced the English game
Coutinho’s renaissance in Merseyside, coupled with his resurgent form for the national team, have seen him linked with a move to Barcelona, and Juninho says he has been impressed by the Brazilians now strutting their stuff on his old stomping ground.
"Coutinho doing really well, he has enjoyed a huge upturn in form, but it is not something that has happened suddenly,” Juninho told Brasil Global Tour.
“He has had to adapt a lot; the transition was not immediate like it has been for Gabriel Jesus.
"But he got there, and you have to think it's hard for anyone to reject Barcelona. Even if you think he should not leave England, when a team like Barcelona comes calling it’s very difficult to refuse.”
In Juninho’s opinion, that would mean leaving the leading competition of the modern game.
"The Premier League is competitive and organised,” he said. “I really felt that when I played there, [the comfort] of the organisation and the pleasure of packed stadiums, of matches full of emotion. For me, it’s the best league in the world.
Coutinho has established himself as one of the Premier League’s leading stars.
19-year-old Gabriel Jesus, meanwhile, us just beginning his English adventure. And Juninho has been mightily impressed with the youngster’s immediate impact at Manchester City.
“What really surprised me is just how quickly he has adapted. Of course, Guardiola is there, who speaks Spanish [and Jesus can likely understand], and there are other players who speak Spanish so maybe he did not need to learn English right away.
“What struck me the most is how much personality Gabriel has displayed, and how his style of play is exactly what English football wants. Direct, quick, he’s always running, always moving and he has an eye for goal.
"There are lots of players who have that dynamism but very few who are also so deadly in front of goal. Gabriel has that.”
Jesus has starred for the national team, too. He was Brazil’s joint-top scorer in 2016, despite only making his debut in September, as new coach Tite swept to one victory after another.
And Juninho, who made 49 appearances for the Selecao, was particularly impressed with Brazil’s 4-1 win in Uruguay in March.
"I thought the match against Uruguay was going to be difficult and maybe the air of invincibility would vanish, but look at what they did.
“They look like they will arrive at the World Cup full of confidence. Of course, the results are most important, but the way Brazil play is also important. On the pitch, Brazil are full of joy and and this is really helping them achieve such positive results.
Brazil return to action next month in Melbourne, with a Chevrolet Brasil Global Tour double-header against Argentina and Australia.