Since moving to England in 2000 from Argentina, former Sunderland cult hero Julio Arca has made himself at home in the ‘un-fashionable’ North East. He is now riding high in the Championship at Middlesbrough, and took time out from their promotion push to speak to me about castles, Italian restaurants, and how everyone thinks he is ancient.
You have been here for 11 years now, you must have found somewhere good to eat?
There are quite a few different places that I like to go to a lot. Romano’s Italian in Cleadon (Sunderland) was the first restaurant I went to when I moved here, and is still my favourite. I also love a Japanese restaurant in Newcastle called Hanahana, I go there all the time.
How about nights out, have you sampled the Parmo’s in Middlesbrough yet?
I don’t go out in Sunderland much, and Middlesbrough is too far from my house! I don’t go out that much anymore, but if I do we usually just go around a few bars in Newcastle with my mates, nowhere in particular, just see where we end up!
How about shopping?
The usual really, Newcastle centre, Eldon Square, the Metro Centre. I don’t have any favourite shops or brands really, I just enjoy walking around and seeing what I find.
Have you had much chance to sample the delights of the Northern countryside?
Whenever my family come over, I like to take them to all the different castles around the North East, like Bamburgh and Alnwick. We have been to the Lake District a lot too; the scenery is brilliant up there!
You spent a long time at Sunderland, through the good and the bad. What made you stay on after the first relegation? Presumably you had other offers?
A lot of the players were leaving the club before we even got relegated. There was speculation everyday about who was going to leave next. I loved the club though and wanted to stay and see what was going to happen the next season. The only reason I considered leaving, and there was interest from a few clubs, was because (Howard) Wilkinson didn’t play me much at all. This changed when Mick (McCarthy) came in. He appreciated me as a player and made me feel wanted again.
We had no direction, no manager, no chairman, Niall was trying to do everything himself.
It must have been difficult being left out by the Wilkinson/Cotteril regime, especially when the club was in such poor form.
It was. I never knew why Wilkinson didn’t pick me, but I was professional enough even at that age to just keep on working hard and try to get back in the team. I never had a one-to-one conversation with him, as with any other job you can tell when a boss just doesn’t like you. I didn’t play more than ten games that season, and it’s not like the team was playing well so I couldn’t understand it.
Things got a lot better for you under McCarthy though didn’t they?
As I say, season after Mick gave me the support I needed, played me week in week out no matter what, gave me the chance to shine again. We did well, got promoted and to the FA Cup Semi Final. Really enjoyed those two years, but the Premiership was so hard and frustrating (15 point season). We had a small budget and you can’t survive on that. Mick gets the blame for it but there was nothing he could do I don’t think.
After this relegation, you decided to move to local neighbours Middlesbrough. What prompted this move? Did the location play a major part in your decision?
I had to make a big decision, saw the club relegated again, we had no direction, no manager, no chairman, Niall was trying to do everything himself. He is a great bloke, I still get on well with him, but he took on too much at the time and I couldn’t see it getting any better. I didn’t see all the Keane stuff happening to be honest, but he did very well in the end.
Middlesbrough were doing very well, got to the UEFA Cup Final the year before I signed, and it was a chance for me to play in this team with massive players and a good team without moving house, so it was perfect. I still don’t know how we got relegated with that team. We seem to be getting back on track though, and Tony (Mowbray) is a great manager. I have signed on for another 2 years so hopefully we can get promoted again.
I have made so many English friends, and I have always been treated with respect.
It has also been widely reported that in signing this new contract you took a substantial paycut. What was your reasoning behind this?
Well, there was interest from other clubs, but the transfer window is a very difficult time for a player out of contract. Everyone is waiting around till the last few days of the window, and I didn’t want to wait around and go out for a trial somewhere. The manager at Boro knew me, I played well for him last year, and he wanted me back and I wanted to go back. We were in talks for about six or seven weeks, I was fighting for the best deal for me, they were wanted the best deal for them. I always knew I was going to lose money, I would’ve been wherever I had moved anyway, and I was willing to do it, but you still have to get the best deal you can for you and your family. It took too long, but we made an agreement in the end, so I will hopefully be here for another two years now.
In light of this, do you see yourself staying in the North East forever? Or does it depend on where you next move might take you?
I don’t know about that to be honest. My family are in Argentina, which is too far away. I believe I will go back there. I love England and the North East, but it will be good to be back, as I have only seen my family once, maybe twice a year since I moved here 11 years ago. I will always come back to the North East though, the only bad thing about it is the weather! The people here are nice and respectful. When you go down South, it is not the same, people aren’t as friendly. I will definitely miss the North East if I move back home, I have made so many English friends, and I have always been treated with respect.
Over the summer everyone thought I was 34 or 35, which put clubs off I think. I am a way off that yet!
Seen as you seem set on a move back to Argentina, have you any plans for what you would like to do once you retire?
At the moment, I can’t see myself as a manager. A lot of players want to do it but I don’t have the character for it. I love playing football, but it takes a lot out of you, and that is just being a player! I can’t imagine what it must be like looking after 30. I think I would be very stressed doing it, so I do not think it is for me! I may do some coaching with young kids back home, but I have nothing in mind right now, still got a few years left so have time to plan what I am going to do.
That’s true. To be honest, when I read you were only 30, I was surprised; it feels like you have been around for ages!
I know! I’m only 30! Over the summer everyone thought I was 34 or 35, which put clubs off I think, I am a way off that yet!
Despite ONLY being 30, you have still achieved a lot in your career. What are your proudest moments?
A few games stand out. My first game for Sunderland was against West Ham at the Stadium of Light. It was the 3rd or 4th game of the season; the boss (Peter Reid) delayed my debut so I could settle in. I had never played in-front of 48,000 people before, so to score a goal on my debut was huge for me and my family. It felt like I had made it! The two games that season against Newcastle too will stay with me forever, especially beating them at St. James’ Park in the game where Tommy (Sorensen) saved a penalty. My goal away at Bradford too I will always remember! I’ve been very lucky, with all the promotions so far, and hopefully more with Middlesbrough to come, and I have a collection of pictures from my career so far.
Finally, you moved to England as a left back, but ended up playing all over the pitch, especially during your time at Middlesbrough. Where are you most comfortable playing now?
It has changed over time. When I arrived at Sunderland I never played at left-back because Micky Gray was there and was the captain, so I played in-front of him on the left wing, which I enjoyed. I played left-back a bit for Boro but then I broke my foot and Andrew Taylor came in and did really well, so I moved back into midfield. I have played all across the middle of the pitch for Middlesbrough, but I am happiest now playing in the centre of midfield, or at left-back or on the left-wing. I have played on the right a few times, but I don’t really feel comfortable there, I don’t really like it. I’m not as fast as I was when I was younger, so I think central midfield is the best for me now.
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