For me, there is nothing better than being Chilean. We are born, with more national pride than ever after what past generations have been through makes us who we are today, passion, love and respect for all, but, more importantly, we are born to live and breathe football unconditionally.
In Chile, being from Santiago, you only have 2 choices to make in your life aided by what your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties persuade you at a young age to follow either, Colo-Colo or Universidad de Chile choosing either one is your choice for life, no going back, ever. However, when it comes to the National Team, that is when all derbies, conflicts, politics are all brushed aside, we all come together as one, inviting family, friends, cousins, neighbors over to watch a friendly, WCQ or a Copa America fixture over an asado, belting out the anthem as if you’re there, come together and cheer on Chile till the final whistle.
Chile, in the past football-wise has had it tough, past golden generations of the 70s and 80s almost going the whole way, or the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet interfering with football and causing outright atrocities, politics, football players affected by the dictatorship, Carlos Caszely, during a world cup match against Austria Chile was awarded a penalty, and the golden kid, Caszely, a man who never missed, stepped up to take it for Chile,. Now, did he miss on purpose? Or he just missed? We will never know. He was never a man who kept his opinions to himself, he spoke out about his disgust of the regime, because, being football, and what we have seen recently in Paris, football speaks, and unites. Never stand quiet about what you believe never.
The dark days for Chilean football on the big stage turned silent over the years, in the 90s and 00s not much was shown, having players like Zamorano and Salas, Rojas, Chile should have done more, should have been a powerhouse of South America alongside rivals, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, but, what National Team football has taught us, patience, your time will come.
Let’s fast forward to 2007, Argentinian, Marcelo ‘El Loco’ Bielsa was appointed National Team Coach of Chile in preparation for the 2010 World Cup. His pedigree, experience, spoke for himself, but the turnaround from club manager to National Team manager, where a COUNTRY’S faith, football is in your hands is almost too much to handle for others but for Bielsa, he took his time, made his changes, instilled his philosophy and he grabbed and ran with Chile.
Bielsa immediately, took over the reigns both on and off the pitch. On the pitch, results were a must and he got them. Chile finally managed to win away against Uruguay in Montevideo, but then also losing against Paraguay in Santiago for the first time also, accompanied by a 3-0 thumping by Brazil. Now, Bielsa masterminded the perfect performance against his Argentina, winning 1-0 for the first time in Chile’s history in a competitive match which then was followed by the resignation of then Argentina coach Basila, so yes, Chileans were celebrating after all hours!
Bielsa, led Chile to the 2010 World Cup after missing out on the last 2 campaigns. Bielsa was an idol is Chile. He was the king, a ‘Santo’ the saint. His tactics, style of play reignited Chile on the football stage gaining respect and plaudits that were long over due. As international managers’ futures are always in doubt, Chileans campaigned for days, months for the Chilean football federation to extend his contract, and they did until 2015. How is South American football without its drama? Marcelo Bielsa resigned in 2011 because if then ANFP President Segovia was elected Bielsa threatened to leave as Manager and in 2011 he did, leaving a footballing legacy that no Chilean will ever forget, El Loco. Gracias.
Its scary how fast football chapters are closed and another opens. In came Claudio Borghi, another Argentinian, who sadly did no way live up to his predecesor and his door closed as fast is it opened.
2012, 3 years until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a World Cup Qualifying campaign in South America which takes over 2 years to complete and Chile welcomes Jorge Sampaoli into the fray.
Sampaoli was pretty much Bielsa’s prodigy, adopting many aspects of El Loco’s philosophy, fast pace attacking football, solidity and the back, strong, attacking minded midfield and the perfection of counterattck football.
Sampaoli was handed the best in my opinion, generation of Chilean players at their peak. We are talking, Jorge Valdivia, Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, Gary Medel, Matías Fernandez, Bravo and so on, these men were in that time beckoned to shine on the big stage, and they did with the help of Sampa.
In the qualifying stages for the 2015 World Cup, Sampaoli won 10, drew 3 and lost 3 in 15 games! Qualifying for the WC.
The 2015 World Cup was pretty much Chile’s, to go as far as they could. Being in Brazil, it was ideal, they knew the conditions, stadiums and the hostility of the crowds but hey, in football if its not meant to be it isnt. Chile in their group finished 2nd behind Netherlands sending Spain home alongside Australia. Of course, Chilean luck, they draw Brazil in the round of 16.
This was Chile’s best game in years. Playing off the park the hosts, forcing the crowd to whistle, boos as much as they could but they didn’t break us, we were always in the game. This was a tactical masterclass by Sampaoli, never playing it safe, attack and attack, press high, defend and they did for 119 minutes. The last 60 seconds of the match was a hand in heart moment. Mauricio Pinilla, on the turn, outside the 18 yard box, shoots, Julio Cesar dives, was on the money beaten, the ball smacks the post and out. Chile was seconds away of eliminating Brazil, out of their own World Cup.
It went on to penalties and yes, chile choked and lost sadly. Leaving with nothing, but respect, knowing the next one is ours. La Revancha.
2015, Copa America in Chile. The Copa America is the oldest competition in football. South Amercia the birthplace of football, joga bonito an everyting you want to call it. A competition that brings the best of the best players and nations up against each other for one trophy, to be crowned the best in South America.
Sampaoli knew the Chilean people will never forget about Pinilla hitting the post and yes me too! But this competition came at the perfect time. Sampaoli still had his team from the year before fresh and hungrier than ever, they knew the Chilean people need something to smile about, they know the deserve this trophy more than anyone else. With that hunger instilled by Sampaoli, Chile took the home advantage, the passion, the love for the jersey alongside stellar performances from day 1 of the competition until the final agaisnt Argentina whom they beat in penalties thanks to a Panenka by none other, Alexis Sanchez. Chile on the 4th of July 2015 were crowned Copa America Champions for the first time in 99 years.
The men he is going up against really need no introduction. Pep Guardiola of Bayern Munich and Luis Enrique of Barcelona. These 2 Spanish wizards have won it all as players and also remarkably and coaches also. Pep leaving Barca to Bayern instilled still his philosophy of the beautiful tiki taka football, yes his XI are the best XI in football history and all he needed to do was change, better and tighten their style of play preceeded by Hynecks.
Enrique, well, he inherited Guardiola’s, and Tata Martino and Tito’s. Did he really need to do much? Maybe, yes or maybe not. He over the year won, the Champions League, La Liga and Copa Del Rey. Their achievements speak for themselves, how do FIFA separate from Club coaches and National Team coaches in this category? Will it be unfair if Sampaoli loses or vice versa? We will have to wait and see.
In the 4 years Bielsa coached the Chilean NT, Chile rose in the famous Fifa World Ranking. Who would have thought, a coach in 3 years could turn around a national team to, finishing 3rd behind Argentina and Colombia, to almost knocking out Brazil, to copa america champions and world wide football praises? No one. But Jorge Sampaoli did with his obsessive nature and bettering then perfecting his predecessor. Leading Chile to be world number 5 in the Fifa World RRanking That is how one does it and why he is among the top 3 candidates for FIFA Coach of The Year.