‘Juan Sara, Sara, whatever will be, will be, he gave United three, Juan Sara, Sara’.
Juan Sara played 107 times for Dundee over 3 years and scored 35 goals for the club in the league, domestic cup competitions and Europe. He would then pull on a Dundee top for one more time for Julian Speroni’s testimonial much to the delight of the fans.
Sara was happy enough to do an interview for the Up Wi' The Bonnets Facebook page so the fans could hear from the player that gave ‘United three’.
What made you move to Dundee in 2000?
I was playing in Paraguay at the time and Ivano and Dario Bonetti knew Fabian Caballero and wanted to bring him to Dundee. I and Fabian both had the same agent and the Bonetti’s needed another striker. They both watched a video of me and were impressed as I had done well that year.
What was your first impression of the Scottish game?
It was very different from the style of play in South America. I was also very impressed with the organisation in the Scottish game which works so much better than in South America. Also I was able to celebrate towards the fans which is something you couldn’t really do because of the violence that sometimes happen over here.
I remember travelling to Starks Park to see Dundee play Raith Rovers in a pre-season game at the start of the Bonetti era. I also remember we took a sizeable support. Did that surprise you to see such a big support for a friendly game?
Yes, I was very surprised at the support as it was only a friendly. It was also the first time I played for the club and I scored in that match. I think Raith scored 2 goals but we won the match.
You famously scored a hat-trick against Dundee United at Dens Park in a 3-0 victory. What do you remember about the game?
I do remember this game but it was over 10 years ago so sometimes it’s hard to remember everything. I watched the game on the internet (UWTB YouTube Channel) and felt lucky to win the first derby of the season and to also score 3 goals. I enjoyed that night and feel lucky to be the last person to score a hat-trick in a Dundee Derby and also score in other derby games. I read that until recently that Dundee had went 10 years without a derby win but back then we won most of the games against them (Dundee Utd). I also remember that night when Fabian got a serious injury.
What other memorable moments stick out from others from your time at Dundee?
The first season and finishing in the top 6th was memorable. Also being the 2nd top goal scorer that year behind Henrik Larsson and scoring 17 goals. Playing in Europe with Dundee was also memorable and being able to score 35 goals in total over my career here. Living in Scotland was also good as I love the country and also the fans. I loved the fans here.
Who was the most gifted player you played with at Den Park?
Claudio Caniggia of course! He was a star around the world and I was very lucky to be giving the opportunity to play alongside him. Julian Speroni was also a fantastic player and also Fabian Caballero, especially before his injury. He was a really gifted player. Gavin Rae was a great player, really strong and Beto Carranza who was very skilful and great to play along as he could always make something happen. Giorgi Nemsadze’s quality was also unbelievable and he was the captain for Georgia’s national team at the time. There were lots of very talented players at Dundee at that time.
Your ‘Jesus Loves You’ t-shirt celebration after scoring a goal is still iconic within the Dundee support. Were you ever punished for this? Also how did it feel to see fans wearing this t-shirt? I remember seeing them only a few days after we won 3-0 at home to Dunfermline on the opening day of the season after you had scored.
Yes I was punished once at St Mirren after scoring when I received a yellow card then not long after, received another yellow card for hand ball and was sent off. Ivano and Dario both had a talk with me and told me to stop it as it was no good to me or the club if I kept doing it. This was more down to the FIFA rules at the time that stopped me or anyone else for taking off their tops when celebrating a goal.
The messages on the t-shirts were part of my life. I enjoyed being able to spread the message and share the glory with him (God) for everything in my life and also show my faith.
It was also nice to see Dundee fans love it and to also see them on sale and the fans wearing them! I saw lots of them recently when I was in London for Julian’s testimonial which was brilliant.
What was it like working under the Bonetti’s and then also Jim Duffy? Did you enjoy it?
Yes, it was easier to work under Bonetti because of the Latin connection. We had the same culture, he brought me to Dundee and also the Italians and Argentines have the same culture. We also had the same style of play. They liked to play passing football which was different from the Scottish style.
Jim Duffy was different to Ivano and Dario but he was a very good manager. He was harder but made you want to try better. I was sent out to Coventry on loan but before going and after coming back, he made me want to work harder.
Away from football, did you socialise with your fellow team mates and was the team quite close?
I spent a lot of time Julian Speroni and Beto Carranza; they were my two best friends while at the club. I also had good relationships with Savo (Steven Milne), Barry Smith and Gavin Rae. Obviously I was closer to people from my own country. The team was close also but sometimes it wasn’t easy because the team had many nationalities from Argentine, Spanish, and French.
It was a dark day when Dundee went into administration. You of course lost your job along with 24 other employees. Can you describe what it was like to be around the club prior to the financial meltdown? Was there any hint that this was about to happen?
No. There was nothing that happened that made you think it was about to happen. You didn’t expect this to happen to a Scottish club but you would to an Argentine club so it was a surprise. It was so sad for all of us involved. I was from a different country and in Scotland without a job. Also my wife was pregnant at the time so it wasn’t nice not knowing what was going to happen.
I noticed you won the league with one of your clubs a few years back. Was this your first league title?
I’ve won 4 league titles in total including titles in Switzerland and Mexico. I played professionally for 20 years and played in many of countries but I feel I still could have done better. I had 3 or 4 serious injuries over my career which in total probably put me out for around 6 months.
It was great to see yourself, Carranza, Ketsbia, Caballero and Nemsadze all turn out for Dundee in the recent Julian Speroni testimonial in London. How special was that night when you saw the support that had travelled down to cheer on Speroni and all of you?
It was fantastic to see the fans show their support for Julian. They were all there to support Julian. After 10 years at Crystal Palace, it was very clever of him to bring Dundee down for it as it showed he never forgot the club. It was very nice to come back to play for Dundee and also see the fans after 12 years but at the end of the day, it was all about Julian and his career.
Dundee took just under 2,000 fans to this game on a Tuesday night. This shows the affection the fans have for the players that were on show and a few of them have called on a match up here at Dens against Palace with yourself and other ex-players to pull on a Dundee top again. Would this be something you would be interested in?
I would love to come back to Dundee. I never made it to the city when I was in London as I was travelling to Spain to attend some training sessions at Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. I’m a coach now and trying to improve everyday so these were vital for me to attend. If there was ever to be another Dundee v Crystal Palace match in Dundee then I would love to come back for it as it would be good to see old team mates. Also I lived in Dundee for 3 years so I would love to see the city again and walk around it. I would love to visit the places that made me smile and have nice memories of.