WORLD Cup winner Juninho is set to join Middlesbrough for the third time - and the deal should be tied up by the end of the week.

On the day Boro finally completed the club record £8.15m signing of Italy striker Massimo Maccarone, they also revealed that an undisclosed fee had been agreed with Atletico Madrid to bring the boy from Brazil back to Teesside.

Juninho, who appeared as a late substitute in Sunday's World Cup final triumph over Germany in Yokohama, will cut short the Samba celebrations to meet Boro for talks in the next two days.

The 29-year-old midfielder's impresssive form in the early rounds of the Far East extravaganza convinced Boro that he is the answer to their search for a creative force.

On-loan Benito Carbone's failure to win a permanent move to the Riverside at the end of last season left Boro badly in need of a playmaker.

And Juninho, voted Boro's Player of the Century by his legion of admirers, fits the bill perfectly.

Newly-promoted Birmingham City are also chasing Juninho, who admitted recently that his "heart and soul'' is in still in England, almost seven years after Bryan Robson first lured him to the Riverside from his home club Sao Paulo in a £4.5m deal.

But despite the interest of Blues boss Steve Bruce, Boro are confident Juninho will agree terms and parade his mesmerising skills once again at the place he regards as his spiritual home.

It is almost three years since Juninho rejoined Boro on an eight-month loan from Atletico, who paid £12m in July 1997 to entice him away following the Teessiders' relegation from the Premiership.

Boro failed in an attempt to complete a permanent deal when Atletico refused to lower their £6m asking price.

But Juninho has been persistently linked with a third coming and Boro this week acted in a bid to make that a reality.

Chief executive Keith Lamb flew to Madrid on Tuesday to thrash out a deal with the Atletico board.

Steve McClaren, who suceeded Robson as Boro manager just over a year ago, said yesterday: "Ever since I came here I've known about how much Juninho is adored by the Boro fans.

"We've followed his progress with Brazil throughout the year. He's back to full fitness and we decided he would be a tremendous asset to the club.

"Keith went out yesterday to Madrid and spoken to the club and we've agreed a fee.

"All it needs now is for us to speak to the player and see if we can come to an agreement.

"He's a player who can do a similar job to the one Carbone did for us last year. I'm excited and hopefully it will come off.

"We've had positive vibes from all parties and now it's up to the player."

Meanwhile, Maccarone has agreed a five-year contract and will meet his new teammates when Boro report back for pre-season training on Monday.

The fee just eclipses the £8m Boro forked out for England defender Ugo Ehiogu when he arrived from Aston Villa nearly two years ago.

Birmingham had also been among the clubs in the hunt for 22-year-old Maccarone, and McClaren admitted: "I'm absolutely delighted we have signed Massimo, especially as so many other clubs were interested in signing him.

"We beat everyone to his signature. He is strong and quick, plays off the shoulder of defenders and, most importantly, he's a goalscorer.

"He's a good, all-round centre-forward and has the potential to develop and become an even better player.''

Maccarone, whose goals fired Empoli to promotion to Serie A last season, made his full debut for Italy in their 2-1 win over England at Elland Road in March when he caught the eye of McClaren, who was assisting Sven-Goran Eriksson.

But he came to prominence in this summer's European Under-21 Championships in Switzerland, where he scored twice against England in front of a Boro delegation.

On a day of frantic activity on Teesside, Boro confirmed that their longest-serving player, midfielder Robbie Mustoe, has ended his 12-year stay with the club.

Mustoe turned down the offer of a new one-year contract and is weighing up the chance to join Derby County.

A £375,000 signing from Oxford in 1990, Mustoe made 454 League and Cup appearances - a figure beaten by only five players in the club's history - and scored 35 goals.

McClaren, who only 24 hours earlier had seen skipper Paul Ince quit the club, said: "I would have liked Robbie to stay with us for another year, but I understand that he is at a stage in his career where he naturally has to do what's right for his future.

"He was absolutely tremendous for me last season, when his performances were often outstanding. At the same time, he has been a wonderful servant to this club and everyone here is sad to see him leave. We wish him all the very best."

* Boro are watching 18-year-old Norwegian striker Martin Wiig, who plays for Odd Grenland and is also being monitored by Manchester United.

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