Blessed with an outstanding array of talented individuals, including the likes of Socrates and Zico, the Brazil team that won the hearts of the footballing world at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™ will live long in the memory. And it was not just in midfield or up front that the Auriverde showed their sparkle.
Bursting onto the global scene was one Leovegildo Lins da Gama Junior, better known as Junior, a right-footed left-back equally adept at orchestrating attacking moves as fulfilling his defensive remit. At the age of 28, the then Flamengo man was appearing at his first FIFA World Cup finals, the high point of a career that would last for a further 11 years.
"Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I played the game professionally for top-level sides for 20 years. It seems like a lifetime," says a man whose name grew to be synonymous with Brazil's best-supported club, Flamengo. "I never even considered playing for another Brazilian team," he tells FIFA.com. "It was simply out of the question. I spent all my youth with Flamengo and practically my entire professional career. I'm eternally grateful for having played a part in the most glorious period of the club's history," adds Junior, whose career lasted from 1974 to 1993 and also included spells in Italy with Torino (1984-87) and Pescara (1987-89).
A quick glance at Junior's list of honours at Flamengo goes some way towards explaining his iconic status at the club. The player won no fewer than four Brazilian league titles in the fabled red-and-black hoops, as well as taking both the Copa Libertadores and the Toyota Intercontinental Cup in 1981, and making the starting berth on Brazil's left flank his own for the best part of a decade. In the wake of his stellar displays for the Seleção at Spain 1982, Junior was the subject of a flurry of offers to play in Europe until finally, in 1984, Torino won the race for his signature.
"One of the conditions I insisted upon was that I would be allowed to play in midfield, which was my position when I started out in football. I'm not a full-back, I'm a midfielder who ended up playing in defence," explains the gifted wide-man. "I knew that I could play on for longer as a midfielder. I really wanted to enjoy that experience and after that I'd already made up my mind to go back to Flamengo to finish my career."
Everything turned out according to plan. Over the course of his five-year sojourn in Italy, where he was known as Leo Junior, the Brazilian maestro won the admiration of fans and media alike, and was even voted Serie A player of the year for the 1984-85 campaign. He went on to appear for Brazil at Mexico 1986, his second FIFA World Cup finals, before making the journey back to his homeland in 1989. And at the age of 35, the evergreen star still had the legs to drive his beloved Flamengo to yet more glory.
"I was the last remaining member of that 1980s generation and so for me it was really special to play a part in winning the Brazilian Cup (in 1990) and particularly the Brazilian league title (in 1992)," says Junior, who was born in the Paraiba state capital of Joao Pessoa. "The latter title was probably the trophy that meant the most to me, because it helped me say a fond farewell (to Flamengo)."
But Junior was more than just a world-class footballer. His ample charm and generosity of spirit made a vital contribution to dressing-room harmony, while his famed ability to spin a yarn also remains intact. "I think I can only remember scoring one own goal in my career, but it was so ridiculous that it should count as several. It was in a Brazilian league match against Sport Recife in 1991, they were on the verge of relegation to the second division and needed to win," says the Rubro-negro legend.
"I was in middle of the park and, without looking up, I knocked the ball back to our keeper Gilmar, but he was on the other side of the box! The ball trickled into the net and we could only stand there looking at each other. We ended up losing 2-1 - how embarrassing!"
Even before his playing days drew to a close; Junior knew his future lay within the boundaries of the beautiful game. "That said, I knew I wasn't going to be a coach. I tried my hand at it twice (in 1993-94 and later in 1997), but I did it because I love Flamengo. They asked me to do it and I could never say no to them," says Junior, who was also briefly a club director at the Carioca giants in 2004, before fully focusing on the job that has ensured his continued fame across Brazil, that of TV commentator.
"When I used to live in Italy I took part in a few TV programs and in Brazil I took up the profession for good from the 1998 World Cup. For me it's the perfect progression from a career as a player, because I always loved analysing the game," says Junior, who currently works for Brazilian channel Sportv.
"And I think I managed to learn something in those 20 years out on the pitch," he adds with a smile and just a touch of false modesty. And as anyone who saw Junior in action will attest, his knowledge of game is most definitely not in question.
Facts and figures
Clubs: Flamengo (1974-84 and 1989-93), Torino (1984-87), Pescara (1987-89)
National team: 79 appearances (1979-1992)
Honours: Four-time Brazilian league winner (1980, 1982, 1983, 1992), Copa Libertadores winner (1981), Toyota Intercontinental Cup winner (1981), Brazilian Cup winner (1990), appearances at two FIFA World Cup finals (1982, 1986).