Sunderland: Macho, Makin, Gray, Hutchison, Craddock, Thome, Holloway, Quinn, Phillips, Kilbane, Arca. Subs: Marriott, Williams, Roy, Oster, Dichio.
Subs: Marriott, Williams, Roy, Oster, Dichio.
West Ham: Hislop, Pearce, Stimac, Sinclair, Lomas, Lampard, Cole, Winterburn, Di Canio, Carrick, Suker
Subs: Bywater, Moncur, Peacock, Newton, Keller.
What a day in the history of Sunderland AFC, not so much because of the result, or the significance of the game itself, but for the introduction of a young South American who would go on to make 177 appearances for the club over six years on Wearside.
This Tuesday night fixture under the floodlights at the Stadium of Light was first time we got to see a 19-year-old Argentinian whizz-kid, a £3.5 million summer acquisition, first scouted by Peter Reid during an Under-20 international game at Fulham a year before, play in the red and white stripes.
Sunderland had won their first home match of the 2000/01 season against Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal at the Stadium of Light, but lost the next two away from home to Manchester City and Ipswich Town, and Julio Arca was brought into the side in place of Paul Thirlwell, playing on the left of midfield rather than in his natural full-back position.
Also making his bow for the club that day was a second South American in the form of experienced Brazilian central defender Emerson Thome, signed for £4.5 million from Chelsea to replace Paul Butler in the starting eleven.
Sunderland started the game quickly, with Kevin Kilbane racing through on goal but seeing his shot come back off the post with Shaka Hislop left flailing.
Kilbane had another chance a few minutes later, before providing the delivery for the moment of the match on 25 minutes.
Kevin Phillips picked the ball up 40 yards from goal and slid a lovely ball through to Kilbane on the wing, and the Irish international’s deep cross was met by the flying head of the Argentinian debutant, who wheeled away in joy as the 46,000-strong Stadium of Light crowd became a sea of limbs on finding a new messiah.
The lead didn’t last too long, however. In the 33rd minute, a corner ball caused chaos in the Sunderland box as Jurgen Macho failed to get a punch on Paolo Di Canio’s delivery, and Croatian legend Davor Suker hooked the ball home.
Sunderland could have re-taken the lead before the break, with both Quinn and Phillips having chances to score, but went into the interval on level terms.
Although Sunderland dominated initially after the break, West Ham grew in confidence as the second half progressed, with the little Italian pulling the strings in midfield yet failing to take his opportunities in front of goal, and Macho making up for his earlier mistake with a great save late on from John Moncur.
All in all, a decent result for the Lads against a side that included a young Michael Carrick, a young Frank Lampard and a young Joe Cole alongside veterans like Stuart Pierce and Nigel Winterburn.
Speaking to the Golazzo podcast in September 2020, Julio went into depth about how he transitioned from playing at Argentinos Juniors, a famous but relatively small side, to playing in the Premier League for Sunderland:
To be honest I was lucky that when they signed me Michael Gray was playing left-back - he was a local boy and the captain - so my chances of playing left-back were zero. So the manager said to me that ideally he wants to play me as a left wing, a position I’ve never played but not too different to left back - basically going forward more and running more - but he gave me the chance and obviously I couldn’t say no. I could play anywhere he wanted me to play.
And things went well and eventually we finished seventh the first season, and so obviously I built a platform there, I started to realise who I was was. Obviously things went well not just for myself but for the team, for the manager, and the city was happy about the team. I remember January-February we were like second in the league, we beat team like Arsenal, Chelsea, so we used to compete against any team in the Premier League and it was a really strong team and every two weeks there was 48,000 there and it was so loud.
But that first step into the first team it helped me a lot. Outside of the pitch it tool me probably two years to get used to the English lifestyle
Talking about the difficulties he had in understanding some of the various English accents in the dressing room, especially Reid and his assistant Bobby Saxton, Julio spoke of the importance of having another South American by his side to help
I was lucky that at the same time they signed me, they signed Emerson Thome from Chelsea, and he can speak four or five languages, and he speaks several languages and is seven or eight years older than me. But he helped me a lot, he was my older brother there.