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Cult Heroes: Julio Arca

Arca's performances for Mick McCarthy's Sunderland side always got the thumbs up from the Irishman
Arca's performances for Mick McCarthy's Sunderland side always got the thumbs up from the Irishman

It would be fair to say that Sunderland's recent form has ruined what looked set to be the most successful and memorable season in years. With the self destruct button having been well and truly pressed our beloved side have gone from chasing a European spot to becoming that side. You know the one, every season has one, a side that get dragged into the relegation battle from what seemed a safe position.

I am undoubtedly the luckiest member of the Roker Report team however as I get to look back at some great players of recent Sunderland history, while the other guys have to write up match reports, try to make sense of Bruce's tactics and substitutions. Sorry lads.

So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, he's a huge favourite of mine and Mr. Roker Report himself, Simon Walsh - its only bloody Julio Arca!

I couldn't believe my eyes when I realised that over a decade has passed since Arca was unveiled on Wearside. Doesn't time fly when you're having fun as a Sunderland fan!? In July of 2000 Peter Reid finally got his man. Arca had originally caught Peter's eye in an under 21's game at Craven Cottage and Sunderland had to fight off competition from West Ham United and the dark side, Newcastle, to seal a £3.5m deal from Argentinos Juniors.

I can vividly remember being excited at the prospect of the Argentine as it seemed Sunderland had finally signed a youngster that had actual potential. I can also remember the unveiling of Julio at the training ground and seeing the fear in the young mans eyes, mainly because our then Brazilian defender Emerson Thome was assigned as his mentor, tutor and presumably body guard and the hulking, goatee bearded Brazilian draped his arm around the diminutive new signing.

Julio was to instantly repay a large chunk of his transfer fee as he grabbed a goal in his debut against West Ham. Reid made his name as a bargain hunter and for me Julio was one of his greatest signings who repaid that £3.5m fee many times over during an awkard spell in Sunderland's history.

Arca was genuinely one of the most skillful footballers I have seen in my time following the lads, with his trademark socks down round his ankles, Julio left defenders in his wake with his brand of pacey football and a bag-full of tricks and quickly became a fan favourite.

Arca's early SAFC career was hit by a season of setbacks in 2001/02 as a series of niggling injuries led to the tricky wing-back missing the majority of a disappointing season.

It was under Mick McCarthy's tutelage in the Championship seasons of 2003/04 and 2004/05 that Arca really came to the fore for me and his dazzling performances were rewarded by the PFA as he was named in their team of the year for two seasons running.

Sunderland's triumphant return to the Premiership, predictably, ended in tears as the North East outfit were relegated in dramatic style, breaking records on the way with the embarrassing "haul" of fifteen points. This relegation also saw Arca's disappointing transfer to a small club in Yorkshire.

It is telling for me that even though seasons have come and gone since Arca's exit, we have never replaced the little Argentinian, George McCartney was assigned the task and we all know how that worked out.

It is also interesting to note that as Sunderland's woeful injury list this season is one of many hot SAFC based topics at the moment that Julio himself was one of a number of Sunderland players that have suffered bizarre injuries. Along with Kevin Kyle burning his never regions with scalding water and Liam Lawrence tripping over his dog, Arca suffered an allergic reaction to a jellyfish sting endured while swimming in the North Sea. Only at Sunderland...

Much like Niall Quinn, Arca fell in love with Sunderland and is not afraid to let his feeling known. Julio is often seen at the Stadium of Light when his new employers are not playing which in turn gives the fans a chance to air the good old Spandau Ballet - Gold based chant.

Call it a romantic, rose tinted glasses view, which it probably is, but I wouldn't begrudge a return to the SOL for Julio as the club is crying out for a dedicated left back. OK, now I'm getting carried away!

I dare you not to sing along while enjoying this peach of a freekick by the little fella!

Julio Arca Scoring Sunderland

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