Julio Arca has set his sights on emulating the remarkable achievements of an Argentinian national hero as he takes his first steps in management with an emotional return to South Shields.
The former Sunderland and Middlesbrough star became a firm favourite with the Mariners when he brought down the curtain on his playing career with a highly successful spell in non-league football.
After coming out of retirement to join the then-Northern League Division Two club in September 2015, Arca had helped the club to three promotions and six trophies by the time he departed in the aftermath of promotion into the Northern Premier League Premier Division in 2018.
It seems fitting that the former Argentina Under-20 international will kick off his managerial career at the 1st Cloud Arena given the emotional bond he forged with Mariners supporters and he is certain to receive a rapturous ovation when he oversees his first game in the dugout.
Yet the challenges in wait are sizeable as he puts in the groundwork to prepare for the club’s first ever season in the National League North after securing promotion under Arca’s former Sunderland team-mate Kevin Phillips. The new Mariners boss is confident both he and newly appointed assistant manager Tommy Miller can help the club succeed in a notoriously difficult division – and pointed to Argentina’s World Cup winning coach as an example of what a novice in the dugout can achieve against the odds.
He told the ChronicleLive: “It’s a strange one because I know what the fans expect. They are used to getting promotion, promotion, promotion, and obviously the higher you go in the leagues, the harder it is to achieve things.
“But at the same time, the club is getting two former players that have a lot of knowledge of football. Tommy has been in this league working for many years, so he knows the leagues inside-out.
“It’s a new challenge, a new career, I know what people are saying because clubs like this normally go for managers with experience – but Kevin (Phillips) came over and hadn’t managed a team, apart from working as an assistant coach and he did really well.
“I always used the example of Lionel Scaloni, he went to the national team working as a coach, then an assistant coach and he was given the freedom of working with the players, with good people alongside him and it’s three titles in two years. Everyone deserves an opportunity and hopefully things can work out for us here too.”
Arca’s new side will compete alongside a whole host of former Football League clubs in the National League North as South Shields take their place alongside the likes of Kidderminster Harriers, Hereford and Boston United in non-league’s second tier. There is local interest too, with local derbies against Spennymoor Town, Darlington and a Blyth Spartans side managed by Arca’s former South Shields boss Graham Fenton lies in wait.
The level of competition is all a far cry from the day when Arca scored on his Mariners debut against Stokesley Sports Club in the second tier of the Northern League. With the next step in their rise up the pyramid now just months away, Arca has called for everyone at the 1st Cloud Arena to stick together as he looks for a successful first season in management.
He said: “A lot of things have happened and I got to know the club, they got to know me and they were probably expecting an ex Premier League footballer to come in for a few months and then to go off elsewhere.
“Obviously that’s very different to what happened here and luckily everything went well. I helped the club to grow, me and the other players helped the club to achieve some fantastic things and probably things that the chairman didn’t expect to achieve so quickly.
“Being at a higher level might take the pressure off us a little bit. But we will push as hard as we can and we have had that conversation with the chairman. Teams will notice us, they will look at who we are going to get, what style of play we will play, but we are now playing against most professional teams, more competitive teams, so it’s going to be hard but the players we have are capable of competing and we will do that by sticking together as a club.”
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