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Tales from the Stands: Can Sunderland sign a superstar who will match Marangoni?

As Alex Neil continues to build a squad for the Championship, will any signings excite our younger fans the way one mid-season transfer did for one 14-year-old over four decades ago.

In the late seventies I reached that age where I went from going to games simply wanting to see Sunderland win to the point where you start to understand the individual performances and abilities displayed on the pitch and I suppose identify your favourite player.

At the time for me it was a case of silk and steel in that side but, little did I know, Sunderland were about to sign a player to this day I believe was one of the best I have seen grace the shirt.

Initially, my heroes were Joe Bolton and Kevin Arnott, on the face of it two opposites. Joe was the steel in the side, a sometimes marauding full back who had a rocket of a left foot and was as hard as steel.

A player whose tackles belied his ability on the ball. Set that against Kevin Arnott, the young midfield maestro who could pick a pass and score a goal and contained the silky skills that all too often caught the eye of those in the stands.

Claudio Marangoni Sunderland 1979 Photo by Danny Brannigan/Hulton Archive

However, all was going to change in December 1979.

The world cup in Argentina the previous year has seen the hosts victorious and prompted the arrival of a number of Argentine players into the English football league.

Manager Ken Knighton identified the man he believed would bring some flair into our midfield and raided Argentine club San Lorenzo de Almagro, splashing out a hefty £320,000, for Claudio Marangoni.

Claudio had taken out Italian citizenship to smooth the move to the North East, and from the outset, I was sold. Tall, and with the ability to glide across the heaviest of pitches Marangoni was, in my eyes, a superstar.

However, it quickly became apparent things were not going well for Marangoni as he tried to mastermind our midfield. Even in my early teens, I could see that this was a player who possessed huge amounts of talent, but I always had the feeling that he was two yards quicker both in his head and with his passing than the players around him.

All too often he stood out with a piece of skill or a pass, but across the 90 minutes, it simply wasn’t gelling. However, it didn’t matter to me and for the second half of that 1979/80 season, I paid my money just hoping Marangoni would be in the starting eleven.

His three goals that season were wildly celebrated but even I could see the writing was on the wall as while I just waited to see what he would come up with next he did not look happy.

The first half of the next year we got to see him just three times before the news came through the club, and I am sure Claudio, had had enough and he was returning to Argentina.

I expressed my disappointment to my dad adding that he was the best player I had seen in a Sunderland shirt and why couldn’t the manager and the club understand the mistake they were making.

Marangoni was gone but not forgotten and three years later he burst back onto my, and the UK football fans’ radar.

Having beaten AS Roma in a classic penalty shootout in Rome in the European Cup final, Liverpool headed to Tokyo of all places to seek to win the Intercontinental Cup, played between the European and the South American champions.

Standing between them and the silverware were Argentina’s Independiente. It kicked off at midnight UK time, was live on the television, so the family gathered around to see how the game played out.

Football: QPR v Sunderland Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images

I’d lost track of Marangoni following his departure to Huracan, but here he was playing in central midfield for Independiente having been pivotal in their march to victory in the previous season’s Copa Libertadores.

Over the next 90 minutes, he showed exactly what we had seen in often fleeting glimpses at Roker Park, and played a part in his side’s only, then alongside his teammates frustrated a Liverpool side that was undoubtedly the best team in Europe at the time.

For me, it was a very bitter-sweet moment. Here was one of the players who I had adored playing for The Lads, doing what I always knew he was capable of, but hadn’t really done in any consistent way during his 12 months in Sunderland.

Claudio Marangoni for me will always be the player I immediately think of when I look back at my youth following Sunderland, but he will also be the “superstar” who somehow failed to shine.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Sunderland Photocall Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

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