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One of Peter Reid’s greatest finds, Julio Arca ensured love at first sight for the Black Cats faithful with a goal on his Sunderland debut in 1-1 draw with West Ham United at the Stadium of Light.
The Buenos Aires-born wide-man joined in 2000 from Argentinos Juniors for £3.5m as Reid invested in South American talent with Emerson Thome also moving to Wearside.
And, Arca, who went on to play 177 games for Sunderland in a six-year spell with the Black Cats, delighted the Wearside faithful from the off with the stereotypical flair and skill of an Argentinian but also the fierce tackling and passionate displays that are more stereotypical of a local lad playing for his home town team.
Arca, who once compared Sunderland to Buenos Aires because of the beach and friendliness of the locals, was helped along by Brazilian defender Emerson Thome who was assigned as translator during the Argentine’s early stages on Wearside.
In fact the only word Arca heard during his first season from his manager was 'play' as Reid gave the youngster a license to do as he wished on the pitch. This freedom allowed Arca to flourish, displaying a technique and flair that wowed the Stadium of Light crowd, and he ended his debut campaign in England with three goals from 30 appearances.
In his second campaign Arca made 22 appearances as a couple of niggling injury problems prevented another 30-game campaign for the winger.
And things would get worse as the Black Cats were relegated from the top flight in the 2002-03 campaign, and with Arca’s mentor Reid parting company with the club, it looked as if the Argentinian may leave.
However, true to the character of the now cult hero, Arca stayed on Wearside vowing to help Sunderland return to the top flight at the first time of asking.
And he was true to his word as Mick McCarthy’s Sunderland ran away with the Championship title in 2005 with Arca making 41 appearances in all competitions.
Unfortunately the following top-flight season proved to be a long, hard campaign for all involved.
Arca was again reluctant to leave, though the lure of Premier League football with Middlesbrough proved too much for the fans’ favourite.
After joining Boro, Arca was always greeted with a warm reception from fans on his return to Wearside with fans regularly chanting ‘Julio’ to the tune of Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’.
Sunderland’s adopted son left Middlesbrough at the end of the 2012-13 campaign and is reportedly set to move home to his native Argentina.