Julio Arca has told of his hunger for more success after signing a new two-year contract with South Shields.
The midfielder, who joined the club in September 2015, has won five trophies and two promotions with the Mariners so far.
In an extended interview, the former Sunderland and Middlesbrough star has spoken about his excitement about what lies ahead – and just what it is that makes the club so special to him.
Q: Julio, congratulations on the new contract. How pleased are you to sign a new deal?
A: Committing my future to the club is something I was looking to do. Last season was fantastic for all of us, and I really wanted to carry on being part of the team. The club has a lot of ambition and everything has been going in the right direction. I enjoyed my football last season with the lads and played a lot of games, so it made sense to continue. I still feel fit. I spoke with the chairman and the two managers, and when they offered me a two-year contract, I was delighted to sign.
Q: What was it that convinced you to stay?
A: When I spoke with the chairman and managers, I told them what I was thinking. It was mainly because I wanted to carry on playing. I feel like I can continue playing at this level at least. There were a lot of reasons I wanted to sign. The club wants to progress and continue doing what it has been doing, achieving promotions. That will be the goal again next season. Everything at the club seems to be going the right way and the majority of the players are signing contracts for the next two years. The managers have also committed to being here for the next two years, so everything is quite settled. Everyone wants to be part of this club now, and I love the fact that I’ve got the chance to carry on being part of this club for the next two years, and more. I’ll be playing for the next two years at least, and I’d like to be part of the club in a different role behind the scenes when my playing days end as well. Hopefully the club continues to progress, and then I’m sure they’ll need more people involved. I’d love to be part of that.
Q: You’ve been here since September 2015, which was just a few months after Geoff Thompson took over as chairman. A lot has happened in the last two years…
A: I’m glad I’ve been at the club since the start of this project. The club went through a lot before I came here and had to battle to survive. Then when the club came back home, something new started thanks to the chairman. The players have put the work in over the last two years on the pitch and the club has been getting the rewards. This season was even better.
Q: Was there ever a chance you would leave?
A: This was a unique season, and something that will stay part of history. I never thought about going anywhere else, because I don’t want to go anywhere else. I was just wanting to meet with the managers and chairman here to sort something out, and thankfully that happened.
Q: A second successive promotion means we now move into the Evo-Stik League First Division North. Are you looking forward to the challenge?
A: We’re going into a new league, and if I’m honest, I don’t know a lot about it. The managers know more about it and we’ve got players who’ve played in the league, though. We’re going to approach it exactly the same we way did the Northern League. Our target will again be to win the league, or promotion at least. We’ll be entering some different cup competitions, but ideally we want to get promoted, as we have done in the last two seasons. Whatever happens in the cups will be a bonus. We’ve got a good squad and hopefully we can keep everyone on the right track.
Q: You’ve touched on the success of last season already. It must have been beyond your wildest dreams at the start of the campaign?
A: Recently, I watched the game against Consett back, when we drew 3-3 in the first match of the league season. After that game, everyone was a bit disappointed. We could never have imagined at that stage that we would go on to win every competition. The team grew so much over the months and it was incredible to see the difference. Players started to get to know each other and mixed fantastically well. The coaches did really well to mix the team around all season, which you need over a long season when legs can get tired.
Q: We will be the most geographically isolated team in the league next season. That’s another challenge for us to overcome, but are you confident we’ll do that?
A: The higher you go in the leagues, you know you’re going to have to do some travelling. I don’t think it will be a problem for us. Sitting on a coach for two or three hours before a game isn’t ideal, but we’ll have to get used to it. All the players look after themselves and prepare in the right way, and I’m sure it won’t be a problem.
Q: The one competition we could have done better in last season was the FA Cup. Will there be a focus on getting further in that this time around?
A: We’ll try our best to do better in the FA Cup next season. Financially, it’s a big competition for the club, and it’s a great opportunity for us as players as well. It gives you a chance to compete against teams from higher levels and other leagues. It would be great to get through a few rounds and come up against a big club. We’d be able to see what the difference is between us and them, because I believe we’ve got a good team and players that could definitely play at higher levels.
Q: Winning at Wembley must surely be the standout moment of your time at the club so far, but there have been so many special days over the last two years. Are there any in particular which stand out for you?
A: It has been a remarkable two years. Wembley was the icing on the cake after all the hard work we’ve put in over the last two seasons. This season was a lot harder, of course, because we were involved in four competitions to the end. I think it would have been more difficult for us at Wembley if we had lost in one of the other two finals, because we had built it up so much that we wanted to win all four competitions. Winning the other three going into that one meant that our confidence was so high, and credit to the lads, because the performance was fantastic. There have been so many fantastic moments over the last two seasons and it’s difficult to pick just one out.
Q: One of the major aspects of the club over the last two seasons has been the level of support. That must be a huge factor for you all as players?
A: I think the majority of people are still surprised about the support we’re getting. I think we get a big support for a number of reasons. One of the main ones is that when you are winning games and doing well, you’re going to attract more fans. Geoff has done a lot to put the club in the right position over the last two years. The players have done a lot as well, because results bring fans. If we do our bit on the pitch in the right way, I believe we will get even more support. Hopefully this season can be another big one for us. If we get off to a strong start, we could get more fans.
Q: You’ve won five trophies with the club so far, but you must be hungry for more success?
A: That’s the reason I want to carry on playing. I don’t want to just play for the sake of it. I want to keep helping the club and hopefully win more silverware. The higher we go in the leagues, the harder it will get. To achieve what we did last season, winning all the competitions we realistically could, would be almost impossible. We really want to do well in the league and get as far as we possibly can in the cups. We’ll prepare well in pre-season and we’ve got some games against good teams, which will be a good test to see where we are.
Q: You’ve spoken in the past about how this club now feels like a family to you. Can you talk a bit about that, and what the club means to you?
A: That has been from day one. I’ve always had a great connection with the fans here, which helped me settle in straightaway. We’ve had two seasons together now and I can’t wait for the next two. We get lots of different fans here – people who support Shields mainly, and people who also support Sunderland or Newcastle. Thankfully everyone has been really welcoming and supportive of me. It’s great to see people who might also support Sunderland or Newcastle mixing together. They might hate each other when Sunderland and Newcastle play against each other but when Shields play, they come together as part of the same bubble to support us. The support is incredible. I love playing here. The people who work at the club as well – everyone behind the scenes – are fantastic, and it’s like a family now. I’ve built up some very good relationships with a lot of people, and that makes every moment here enjoyable. I look forward to coming to training, I look forward to games, I look forward to coming to the club for other things as well. Football sometimes doesn’t give you chances like this, especially in the professional game. Sometimes it can just be about playing the game and then going home. Here, I get to play for a club where I truly enjoy the environment and look forward to coming to all the time.
Q: A lot of people might look at you signing a two-year deal at the age of 36, and presume this will be your final contract. Is that something you believe, too, or is there a chance you could continue playing even after the end of this deal?
A: That will depend on how I feel. I’m 36 and I’ve always looked after myself. That will never change. I’m getting older, and playing with some lads who are 10 or more years younger than me. I just have to keep looking after myself and doing the right things. I can’t afford to drop my standards and I’m determined not to do that. I’ll have good games and bad games, just like any other player. The main thing will be to maintain my physical level, because I feel it was good last season. I played nearly double the games I did the season before – about 50 – and felt good. In two years’ time, I’ll know where I’m at. If we do what we hope in the next two years, which is to continue progressing through the leagues, it might be harder for me, but we’ll see. Myself and the club are happy to commit to each other for the next two years, and I’ll do my best throughout that time. I’ll see where I am then. Realistically, I’ll be 38 then and who knows what will happen in the meantime, but it’s too far away to think about whether I might be able to carry on after that. I’m just thoroughly looking forward to the next two years first of all.
Q: Just finally, pre-season is fast approaching now, but you are due to return to Argentina for a holiday next month. Will that see you miss the start of the season?
A: I’ll start pre-season with the team, with the first training session on July 1. I’ll be able to play in the first game, against Gateshead, but then I have to go home to Argentina, as it’s the only time we can go home with the kids being off school. I’ll be out there for three or four weeks, which is not ideal from a football perspective. Pre-season is the best time to get into good physical shape. When I’m in Argentina, though, I’ll carry on training hard and will try to train with teams over there to keep my fitness levels high. I’ll hopefully be back just after the first competitive game of the season, but I’ll see if we can come back a bit earlier so I can get back involved.
You will be able to watch Julio and his South Shields team-mates in every home match of their 2017-18 league campaign by purchasing a season ticket. They’re available from £140 for adults and £25 for children, and can be bought by calling 0191 454 7800, or visiting Mariners Park to fill out or hand in an application form. Full details are available by clicking here.