Ligue 1 Legends: Juninho Pernambucano

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Juninho Pernambucano is a true legend of Olympique Lyon, winning seven titles during his eight-year spell in France.

Born Antonio Augusto Ribeiro Reis Junior – his name comes from Juninho meaning ‘Junior’ and Pernambucano pays reference to his birthplace in Recife, Pernambuco.

He was Lyon’s engine during the club’s most successful period and had his own special weapon – his free-kicks. The Brazilian scored 100 goals for the French side, netting 44 times from direct free-kick strikes.

At a time when most footballers either opted for a refined instep ‘up and over’ technique a la David Beckham, or the thunderous ‘hit it and hope’ free-kicks of Roberto Carlos, Juninho did something else entirely.

He used to hit the ball with the instep of his foot, as his trademark were the long-range cannon balls. And when he did it right, the ball was just unstoppable.

The most famous of his free-kicks came in the Champions League in 2003. Juninho hit a long-range effort against the best goalkeeper in the World, at that time – Oliver Kahn, who ended up smashing his head on the post.

At a time when match balls would change from competition to competition, Juninho asked his club to purchase all of the available options so that he could work on a way of perfecting his technique with each and every one.

During his 20-year career, Juninho scored a remarkable 77 free-kick goals. That is the most ever in the history of football.

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The only person that comes close to the Lyon legend is the Brazilian goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni, who netted 61 times from a free-kick.

He wasn’t bad when the ball was moving too. Juninho was a classic midfield playmaker, recycling possession and sending through balls to team-mates.

Italian legend Andrea Pirlo admitted to idolizing him in his 2014 autobiography, ‘I Think Therefore I play’, as he wrote:

“During his time at Lyon, that man made the ball do some quite extraordinary things. He’d lay it on the ground, twist his body into a few strange shapes, take his run-up and score.

“He never got it wrong. Never. I checked out his stats. He was like an orchestra conductor who’d been assembled upside down, with the baton held by his feet instead of his hands.

“He’d give you the thumbs up by raising his big toe – somebody at Ikea was having a good laugh the day they put him together.”

The free-kick king played 248 games in Ligue 1. He has won seven consecutive titles, which makes him a joint record holder in the history of the competition.

 

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