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Cult Heroes: Stan Varga

Monday. You know what that means... that's right, David Boyle's back to present us with another Cult Hero. Today profiling a defender who's one legendary game stays strong in the memories of a lot of Sunderland fans...

In the summer of the new millennium Peter Reid paid Slovian Bratislava £800,000 pounds for the services of their centre half Stanislav Varga. Big Stan was a relative unknown to the vast majority of the Sunderland faithful, but had a number of caps to his name and was also the Slovakian captain. It was his international exploits that had first attracted Reid to the tall, commanding centre-half and in particular a friendly in the build up to Euro 2000 against Norway where he was able to keep the baby faced assassin Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and future Sunderland legend (...) Tore Andre Flo quiet.

Varga is perhaps best remembered for his stunning debut against the mighty Arsenal, a performance that is still fondly discussed and often used as the yard stick for new signings to live up to. It was a day that a Niall Quinn header was enough to steal all three points for the Black Cats against an Arsenal side made up of that famous back four ahead of the always dependable David Seaman and the likes of Freddie Ljungberg and Sunderland favourite Thierry Henry to name but a few ahead of them.

In a typical Arsenal performance they carved out chance after chance only to find themselves come unstuck in thanks mainly to Big Stan's resolute defending. As the game was drawing to an end and Arsenal appeared all out of ideas the Sunderland fans cheered every single touch from the big Slovakian. Frustration got the better of Patrick Viera as he was given a straight red card after lashing out at Darren Williams.

All the talk following the game was, of course, about Varga's hugely impressive debut. I remember being adamant that alongside Butler, with Makin and Gray on the respective flanks and the experience of Bould on the bench we had the best defense I had seen as a young Sunderland fan. How far we have come!

As is often the case following Sunderland, we were all wrong. The towering defender was to suffer a prolonged period of time out of the side through injury and never really recovered. Stan was shipped out to West Brom after being substituted at half time during the lads' doomed trip to Old Trafford where Manchester United ran riot with a 4-1 win.

A Sunderland career that had started so well literally fell to pieces. Upon returning from his short loan spell at the Baggies, Stan found himself well down the pecking order with new signings Joachim Bjorklund and fan favourite Jody Craddock now ahead of him in the eyes of the gaffer and was released by the club.

Varga didn't spend long without a club as Martin O'Neill brought the centre half to his Celtic side where he made eighty appearances during his spell in bonny Scotland which included a goal against A.C. Milan in the Champions League.

Wait right there though, as Varga's Sunderland saga is not ready to be brought to an end just yet!

On the 31 of August 2006, Roy Keane seemingly came in possession of Quinny's cheque book and was chucking cash left, right and centre in his quest to bolster the squad. One of his recruits came as part of a £1M+ deal involving his former Celtic team mates Ross Wallace and, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back to the Stadium of Light, Stanislav Varga!

Granted Stan was only really brought in as cover for the huge fan favourite and all round footballing icon that was, and in some fan's eyes still is, Nyron Nosworthy but still it was good to see Varga hopefully seal redemption. Alas it was not to be. Varga found first team football hard to come by and he was moved to Burnley to try and gain match fitness before being released, for the second time, by Sunderland in the summer of 2008.

Varga's Sunderland story is one of unfulfilled potential but he will always be remembered for that sunny afternoon in 2000.

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