Peralta was the street footballer who shone amid the darkness of relegation... but his departure led to whispers, rumours and mystery
PUBLISHED: 16:17 13 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:17 13 October 2019
Sixto Peralta spent just one season at Ipswich Town but remembers his time in Suffolk with great fondness. ANDY WARREN spoke to the Argentine.
It's July 2002 and a grey Audi A3 is parked inside the gates of Portman Road.
It's been there, stationary, for two months but has become something of a symbol of hope.
The car belongs to Sixto Peralta and the hope is he will be back to drive it soon.
His performances on loan from Inter Milan were a ray of light during the darkness of relegation and the prospect of a return to lead the charge in Division One is very real.
There are whispers, rumours and hope of a second coming but, as the summer rolls on, the prospect of seeing Peralta in an Ipswich shirt again seems more and more unlikely.
But while there's a car, there's hope.
"I loved that car," he said.
"I left it in the stadium because I wanted to come back.
"I left all my things. I thought I would be coming back but it's sad, I've actually never been back to Ipswich in my life.
"I spoke with the manager (George Burley) before we were relegated and we agreed that if we had stayed in the Premier League then I would have stayed with Ipswich," he continued. "That's what I wanted for sure.
"They were going to buy me from Inter if we stayed up but once we were relegated Ipswich said they wanted to keep me but could only do one year on loan. I was happy with that but Inter said no, that Ipswich had to buy or nothing.
"I was 22-years-old at the time and I did what they told me. I ended up signing for Racing Club in Argentina on loan but I wanted to stay in Ipswich.
"The car was still there for two months, still in the car park at the stadium, before a friend of mine went from Italy to Ipswich to pick it up and take it back to Italy again."
The Argentine, now 40, only started 16 league games for the Blues during his year-long loan from Inter Milan but made quite the impact.
What he produced on the field was impressive but it was the way in which he played the game which left supporters hoping he would return.
His game was about finesse and drive but his image was scruffy. He looked like he still played on the street with his friends, with his baggy shirt and his devil-may-care attitude.
The man known as 'Mumo' - a shortened version of his middle name, Raimundo - played with an innocence and a clear love for the game, just happy that he had been given a platform to express himself in one of Europe's biggest leagues.
Listening to Peralta recall his year in Suffolk, it's hard to believe he only spent a little over 250 days in England.
"This was one of the best years of my career for sure," he said.
"I was at Inter and I can remember getting a call to say it was a possibility to go to Ipswich. I didn't know the club until this call, I had never heard of it before, but the one year was incredible.
"The people were unbelievable with me. All the people in the stadium were amazing and the fans were great.
"I lived there with my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and I remember these times so well.
"Before I went I was told the football would be really good for me and I enjoyed every single game. The stadium was fantastic and I enjoyed playing in England.
"A lot of times I talk with my son and show him the games, some of the goals and whenever I do that I still get a bad feeling about the relegation.
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"I don't know how that happened. We were a good team. When I talk about it it still brings a bad feeling inside me.
"I remember my first goal against Leicester and the games against the big clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.
"I also remember the game against Helsingborgs in Sweden (in the UEFA Cup). That was a big game. We drew the first leg 0-0 but won 3-1 away and it was huge for us with a lot of Ipswich fans."
But, undoubtedly, the biggest games of the midfielder's time at Town came in the UEFA Cup against Inter, his parent club.
The Italian giants allowed him to play in both legs, with Town winning the first 1-0 thanks to Alun Armstrong's header before losing the second 4-1 in Milan as Christian Vieri netted a hat-trick.
There was no doubting where Peralta's loyalties lay, though, on what was his only appearance at the famous Giuseppe Meazza stadium in San Siro.
"It was strange but I must be honest, when I played that game I felt much more of an Ipswich player than an Inter player," he said.
"I didn't play in the regular team for Inter and I didn't feel part of it like I did in Ipswich. If you ask me now I have more good feeling about Ipswich than Inter, even though I was very proud to play for such a big club.
"I felt 100 per cent an Ipswich player in those games, even in San Siro.
"I have photos from this game because it was unbelievable. There were 10,000 Ipswich fans there and I'll never forget that."
His loan to Racing Club saw him represent the side he supported as a boy, under the management of Argentina legend Ossie Ardiles, and was the next step on a run which saw him move clubs in seven successive seasons, spread across four countries and two continents.
Next was Mexico, with Santos Laguna and Tigres, before a permanent move back to Racing Club and a switch to Argentine giants River Plate.
He was back in Europe in 2010, spending four years with a plucky Cluj side which won three Romanian titles, three domestic cups and performed above expectation in the Champions League.
Then on to Chile, with Universidad Católica and Universidad de Concepción, where he brought his career to an end in 2014.
Quite the tour.
But now he's back home and, as we talk while he's driving his family through the coastal city of Comodoro Rivadavia, an area of Patagonia famous for its oil drilling, he couldn't be happier.
He's back in the city where he and his wife Paula grew up, giving their three children the chance to be around family, and he's working in a role resembling director of football at fourth tier club C.A.I (Comisión de Actividades Infantiles).
"When I decided to finish my career we spoke as a family and then decided it was best for us to return to our city, where me and my wife are from," he said.
"Our first son was born in Buenos Aires, our second was born in Romania while I was at Cluj and the third was born in Chile.
"We have family in Comodoro Rivadavia and we wanted to come home so the children could grow up with grandfathers and other family. That's very important.
"I wanted to maybe coach but if I want to do that here it's difficult because the coach life here is like a football player's life, it's very hard and can change quickly.
"So I am manager of this club, not the coach, and it's beautiful. I'm very happy.
"I started playing here in this club when I was four years old so that's special. It's what it's about.
"This is my main work but we also have a farm here with cows which we have had for 12 years. It's a good way for us to relax.
"I had a good career - my best times were in Tigres, Racing Club and Ipswich. I would probably say the feelings of my time in Ipswich were biggest.
"I would love to go back there one day."