Juninho Paulista is undoubtedly the most popular Boro player of modern times and many would argue the greatest to ever pull on the red and white shirt.

Boasting astonishing skills, phenomenal acceleration and a heart as big as a lion’s, ‘The Little Fella’ is hero-worshipped on Teesside, and reciprocated the affection for the Boro faithful to the extent that he enjoyed three separate spells with the club.

Rejected as a teenager for being too small, he played as an amateur with Corinthians before joining Ituano, where his performances convinced top Brazilian side Sao Paulo to come calling.

Winning six trophies in two years there, he was Brazilian Footballer of the Year in 1995 and had the world at his feet, catching the eye of Bryan Robson - acing as assistant to Terry Venables with the England national team at the time - with an electric performance at Wembley in the Umbro Cup.

Robson was part of a Boro contingent that jetted out to South America later that year to complete an audacious signing of the Brazilian star - one which required patience, perseverance and the beating of several of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Some 5,000 fans and a samba band were there to greet Juninho on his arrival at the Riverside Stadium.

Quite simply, he did not disappoint. On his debut against Leeds United, he provided a pinpoint assist to Jan Age Fjortoft at the end of a trademark run.

He took time to adjust to the fast and physical nature of English football, but Boro fans began to see the best of the diminutive Brazilian by the start of his second season, particularly with Fabrizio Ravanelli up front and compatriot Emerson in midfield.

Memorable goals against Derby, Everton and Chelsea followed as Juninho won the Premier League Player of the Year. But it was a season that would end in heartache, Boro relegated on the final day and ultimately beaten in two Wembley cup finals.

A tearful Juninho announced he had to leave to realise his ambitions of playing in the 1998 World Cup, with Atletico Madrid winning the race for his signature.

But when a broken leg denied his place at the tournament and his performances in Spain took a hit as a result, Boro offered a route back to form and fitness, with Juninho back in his adopted home on loan by September 1999.

Realising his World Cup dream three years later as part of Brazil’s victorious squad in South Korea/Japan, Juninho had returned to Boro for the third time, on a permanent basis this time, by the end of that same summer.

It was in this spell that he would also finally achieve silverware with the Boro, later describing lifting the Carling Cup in 2004 as the high point of an illustrious career.

Juninho returned to Teesside in 2010 for a Riverside testimonial, lining up for Boro against PSV Eindhoven.

The samba star’s playing days ended in fairytale fashion, scoring a goal for boyhood club Ituano in his final game to spare them from relegation. Juninho was to be appointed president there, and helped forge links between the club and Boro.

Juninho now works for the Brazilian football federation as head of youth development.