THE SAMBA drums which accompanied Brazil's World Cup triumph at the International Sports Stadium in Yokohama on Sunday are once again ready to reverberate closer to home.

The porticoes of the Riverside Stadium will be jumping if, as seems likely, Juninho agrees to rejoin Middlesbrough in the next few days.

An enduring love affair is aflame with passion again. Boro are trying to win Juninho's heart in the fervent belief that this is third time lucky.

Twice before he has escaped Teesside's warm embrace; firstly when he demanded a £12m divorce five years ago after suffering the heartbreak of relegation from the Premiership in between defeats in both the Coca-Cola and FA Cup finals, and secondly when a loan liaison failed to lead to something more permanent.

The path of true love, of course, never runs smoothly, but Boro sense that this time, it could be for keeps.

Atletico Madrid didn't have to court Juninho too much to inveigle him to the Estadio Vicente Calderon in the summer of 1997.

Now, however, both parties want a separation.

In truth, the move to Spain proved a pain for Juninho almost from the start.

Little more than six months after his arrival, he broke his ankle so badly that he was ruled out of Brazil's ill-fated World Cup campaign of France '98.

In more ways than one, Juninho's world had fallen apart. A series of managerial upheavals at Atletico left the impish midfielder in limbo.

Yet it wasn't long before Boro were back on the scene. At the beginning of 1999, stung by the audacious attempts of Aston Villa to bring Juninho back to the Premiership, Boro invoked an option to re-sign him.

They agreed a £10.5m fee with Atletico and even convened a press conference to herald the return of the prodigal.

But they were left embarrassed when the deal collapsed at the 11th hour after Atletico called the whole thing off.

Boro manager Bryan Robson, who had staged a coup when he signed Juninho from Sao Paulo for £4.75m in October 1995, refused to give up the chase and in September 1999, a loan deal was struck.

Juninho returned to Boro for eight months, but his form was patchy and with Atletico refusing to take a penny less than £6m, hopes of a concrete agreement crumbled.

He headed back to his homeland in August 2000 to join Vasco da Gama. There he recaptured his old form and returned to the international reckoning.

It was during that season that Boro, with former England boss Terry Venables on board as head coach to bail out a beleaguered Robson in a renewed fight against relegation, explored the possibility of a third union with Juninho.

But it didn't get beyond first base and last season he remained in Brazil, having moved again on loan to Flamengo.

By his own admission, however, his "heart and soul'' have always been in the English game and he is more eager than ever to rekindle his Premier passion.

Having exorcised the ghosts which haunted him after the nightmare of '98 by realising his dream of collecting a World Cup winner's medal, Juninho now has the chance to return to his favourite stage and once more exhibit the exquisite talents that moved Boro fans to crown him their greatest player of all time.

And while he is in the mood to win trophies, Boro will be hoping he is ready and willing to inspire them to the Holy Grail that is a hitherto elusive major item of silverware.

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