Brazilian World Cup winner Juninho Paulista has returned to scoring action for Middlesbrough after battling his way back from an anterior cruciate ligament injury (ACL). The injury occurred during Boro's preseason friendly matches against Alaves, ruling Steve McLaren's star signing out for seven months.
The rehabilitation of the samba star has truly been a worldwide affair. Following the lead of Brazilian team mates Marcio Amaroso and Lucio, Juninho opted to have his surgery in the United States, at the Alabama Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center (ASMOC), which is part of the HEALTHSOUTH corporation. The surgeons at ASMOC have a renowned reputation and US sports stars such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz are just a few big names who have travelled to Alabama for medical treatment.
Juninho's ACL reconstruction was undertaken by Dr James Andrews, clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and a founder of ASMOC. Dr. Andrews' expertise is certainly in demand and, prior to consultations with elite soccer players, has been the team physician for the University of Alabama, Georgia Tech University, Troy State University, the National Football League's Washington Redskins, Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Cincinnati Reds, the PGA Tour, SENIOR PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour.
After receiving the first phase of his rehabilitation under the guidance of physical therapists at ASMOC, Juninho returned to Middlesbrough to work under head physiotherapist Bob Ward, at the club's state of the art training centre. As is often the case when a foreign player is out for a prolonged period, the club agreed that Juninho could undertake the bulk of his rehabilitation 'at home'. The player explained, "When you are sad and you don't play for so long it's good to be with your friends and your parents."
In order to meet the patient's needs, the Boro' medical team liased with Professor Nivaldo Baldo, a physiotherapist from Sao Paulo, and the player spent most of his rehabilitation time back in Brazil. On the subject of Professor Baldo's clinic, Juninho said, "They have everything I need here and that's why I chose to stay in Brazil. I had started to be angry and upset because I've never been out for so long without playing, but my friends and family are helping me. It's been a very frustrating time. These things take time of course, but my wish is to come back as good as ever."
As the player approached the functional stage of his rehabilitation he returned to the north east to continue his return to fitness back at Middlesbrough. After a reserve team run out in front of more than 20,000 fans, the Brazilian made his return to Premiership action against Everton two weeks ago and marked his comeback with a goal. Juninho celebrated by racing to the touchline and embracing chartered physiotherapist Bob Ward. Afterwards, Juninho explained, "He knew what it was like for me to be out for six months. He did a great job for me. I feel I owe many things to him and to my surgeon."
The twenty-nine year old continued, "Only someone who has been through something like that can tell you how hard it is. Scoring was a dream for me. I have waited a long time. I have never been out for such a long spell."
Read our interview with Boro's chief physio Bob Ward >