Juan Sera


“HE’S here to score goals, and to convert souls.”

Scotsport commentator Archie MacPherson was pretty much on the mark with his offering about Dundee’s talented striker Juan Sara, at the start of the club’s televised first SPL home game of the season against Hibernian in August.

And it’s an assessment the Argentine has set his sights on living up to.

“I believe that I am on a mission here in Scotland,” says Sara.

“I believe that every Christian has a mission. I play football and I believe that God has brought me to Dundee to do something specific for Him. I suppose you could say I’m a football evangelist.”

And anyone with even just a passing interest in football would fail to see that Sara means business when it comes to telling people about God. His goal celebrations have become well documented – the No. 9 Dundee shirt pulled back over his head to reveal a T-shirt printed with a Bible verse or other Christian message.

Among the offerings so far have been ‘Jesus Loves You’, a verse from Philippians 4:16; and, of course, that old sporting favourite John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’

“I got the idea from a few players in South America who did the same thing after they scored a goal,” he explains. “I decided to copy them - I think it’s a good way to tell people about my faith.

“I think that the thing with the T-shirt has helped some people, I’ve actually had people tell me that, that it has made them think about God.

“And the players at Dundee respect me for my beliefs, and I am happy for that.”

The unusual goal celebration has been such a big hit with the fans that it has inspired its own cult following. The Dundee club shop now sells ‘Jesus Loves You’ T-shirts, and the slogan is a common sight in the stands at Dens Park on match day.

Sara’s intention to introduce new verses over the course of the season, and given his goal-scoring start to the campaign, suggests he might need a large stock of T-shirts. Last year the 24-year-old amassed a tally of 17 goals, second only to Celtic’s Henrik Larsson, and with …. already this season he is well on the way to smashing that tally.

But it hasn’t always been this way for the Argentine. He only became a Christian two years ago while playing in Paraguay, and it was a team-mate at Cerro Porteno, Sergio Recalde, who first took Sara to church.

“I became a Christian in Paraguay two years ago. It was a team-mate of mine in Paraguay who told me about God and took me to church with him.

“It was at a time when I wasn’t feeling too good about my football and I was searching for something to help me be a better player. It was God who gave me a peace and serenity.

“Because it was a friend who helped bring me to God, I want to do the same for my friends who don’t know Christ. I want to tell them about Him, take them to church with me and hopefully be that first step that leads them to becoming a Christian.

“I make mistakes all the time, but God keeps forgiving me and because of that I want to tell people about Him.

“I read the Bible every day, it helps me understand God more and draws me closer to Him.”

Like many young South American boys, Sara always wanted to be a professional footballer. Born in Buenos Aires, he was always ready for a game of football with his friends, whether it was a bounce game on the streets of the Argentinean capital or a more organised match on one of the city’s many football pitches.

From an early age it was obvious that he had a talent for the game, and it was no surprise when Argentinean club Alte Brown offered the teenage Sara the opportunity of full-time football. He stayed with the club for three years before securing a one-year deal with Nuevo Chicago then crossed the border to join Cerro Porteno in the Paraguay league. Sandwiched in between was a 3-month spell with a club in the Czech Republic.

Playing in Europe, however, is the ambition of many South American footballers and Sara is no different. His break came when Ivano Bonetti was appointed manager at Dundee and one of the Italian’s first acts was to offer Sara a short-term deal at the club.

Despite averaging a goal every two games, he was inconsistent at times last season and frustrated the Dundee fans with spectacular misses, most notably two penalties in February’s 1-0 loss to Rangers.

But he showed enough talent to earn a new three-year deal with Dundee in the summer, and has returned more focused and confident in his abilities.

“I was very happy to join Dundee, but last year was a difficult time of adapting for me - to a new team, a new country and a new culture. It’s very hard to go to another country with another language, but now I feel more confident with the experience of last year behind me.

“My relationship with God is the most important thing to me. Without Him the challenges of last year would have been almost impossible to overcome. He helped me, for sure.

“I’m very happy with my start to the season, because that’s what I’m in the team for, to score goals. But we still need to improve as a team if we are to go on to bigger things.

“I think last year we played very well but lost a lot of silly points. That’s something we need to improve on this year. Last year I scored 17 goals and I was very happy with that, but I want to do even better this year.”

Sara also benefited greatly from playing and training alongside fellow-Argentine, Claudio Caniggia last season – “He’s a hero of the people in Argentina and it was a dream come true to be in the same team as him, I’m very thankful to God” – and believes the experience of learning at close quarters from one of his country’s greatest-ever footballers was invaluable.

The improvement has not gone unnoticed in the Dundee dressing room.

“Juan is a better player now than he was when he first arrived,” says team-mate Steven Milne. “I'm not saying he was bad, but he's improved a lot.
“I think that's down to experience. Last year was his first in Scottish football and things went well. He's come back this year with the confidence he can score goals in the Scottish game - and that's exactly what he's doing.
“He's good to play alongside. I was up front with him against Dundee United in the first game and his movement is good and he talks to you all the time. These are all things that make it easy to play with him.”

Sara returned to Argentina during the summer and married his long-time girlfriend, Karina - “It’s very important to have Karina with me because we are so far from Argentina. She is a very big part of my life.”

The added stability has had a positive effect on Sara, who admits that he would love to earn a move to a big European club and, God willing, one day play for his country.

“To play for Argentina is something I dream about. At times I think that it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. With strikers like (Gabriel) Batistuta and (Hernan) Crespo you would think that it’s impossible that I would ever get selected for the national team. But I believe that if God wanted me to play for my country then He will allow it to happen.

“I am scoring goals at the moment for Dundee, and all I can do is keep scoring goals and see what happens. I do think, though, that I would need to be playing in a higher profile league to be considered by Argentina.

“I love football and I want to stay in the game, God willing, for as long as I can. After I finish playing I’d like to be a trainer or a manager, something like that.

“But, ultimately, I believe the most important thing in life is to follow God, to listen to what He wants to say to me. He will show me the way he wants me to go.”

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