By Matthew Owens
Chilean footballers have never had such a strong presence in European football. From the Italian Serie A, to La Liga in Spain, from the Primeira Liga in Portugal to our own English Premier League, Chilean ‘Patiperros’ can be found in clubs up and down the countries of Europe.
To be fair there have been some great Chilean players who have for many years played and toured around the world, including visiting Europe. Jorge Aravena for example, who was one of the first to play for a Spanish club, signed for Real Valladolid in the mid-1980s. Iván Zamarano played for Real Madrid in the early 1990s picking up several trophies and accolades, noteably scoring a hat-trick against rivals Barcelona in the 1995 season. Similarly there was Marcelo Salas who moved to Italy for a 5-year stint in 1998 playing for both Lazio and Juventus. But way, way, way before that David Arellano, who is often credited with the promotion of la Chilena (the bicycle kick), was touring around Europe in the 1920s.
Nevertheless, there has been something of a renaissance period for Chile of late with the success of the national team in qualifying for the last World Cup under chief Marcelo Bielsa, and recent news from the Santiago Times informs us that Chilean team Universidad de Chile has been ranked the 3rd best in the world.
So we thought it was time to have a gander at some of the Chleans currently playing abroad and we compiled a list of the best. So, here, in reverse order, is the chileno top 10 list of Chilean footballers currently playing in Europe. This is necessarily quite a subjective list of course and there are several other players that were omitted including but not limited to: Cristóbal Jorquera (Genova), Mauricio Pinilla (Cagliari) and Jean Beausejour (Wigan).
|11||Humberto Suazo||Monterrey, Mexico|
OK, so the first is cheating because this entry doesn’t actually play in Europe, but he’s one of our favourite players so Humberto Suazo (Chupete) goes in at number 11. Currently playing for Monterrey in Mexico, Suazo was player of the year in 2006, awarded by the fun-sounding International Federation for Football and Statistics IFFHS, when he was the world’s no 1 goal scorer. Well he did play for Zaragoza at one point and he has been a force to be reckoned with for the national team.
|Jaime Valdés||Sporting, Portugal|
Jaime Valdés, or “El Pajarito” is an attacking midfielder/left-winger, who played for the national team under Bielsa a few years ago. He plays for Sporting normally but is currently on loan to Italian side Parma. Although he has not found a happy home in the Sporting line up, he knows Italian football well, having spent several years there already previously playing for Bari, Fiorentina, Lecce and Atalanta. Valdés is fast, aggressive, passes well and on his day and can finish like the best.
|9||Matías Fernández||Sporting, Portugal|
Also a Sporting player who is in the current Chilean national squad, Fernández was South American Footballer of the Year in 2006 and at 25 still has much to offer the game. He has an attacking style that is exciting to watch, bringing hm 4 goals at club level this season.
|8||David Pizarro||Roma, Italy|
Another Serie A player, David Pizarro is currently on loan to Manchester City where he recently scored against Porto in the Europa League. He is a solid midfielder who has good ability to hold the ball well and has played for his country too.
|7||Mauricio Isla||Udinese, Italy|
Isla is a very versatile player, who is currently with top Serie A team Udinese (playing with Alexis Sanchez when he was there last season) and has had the national team call up before. His ability to occupy various positions on the field, moving forward and covering back, make him an asset to any team. Isla is a playmaker, distributing the ball well to team mates. Some rumours have it that he may move to Liverpool in the future.
|6||Marco Estrada||Montpellier, France|
Estrada moved to top French team Montpellier in 2010 after a good run with Universidad de Chile. He plays midfield and is an excellent striker of the ball.
|5||Eduardo Vargas||Napoli, Italy|
A striker for Serie A club Napoli and Chile, Vargas played for Chilean side Universidad de Chile before making the move to Italy in December 2011 for £11.5 million. In the 2011 season Vargas scored 17 goals for Universidad de Chile and so is set to make a huge splash in Europe.
|4||Gary Medel||Sevilla, Spain|
Medel is a defensive midfielder, who tackles ferociously for La Liga team Sevilla and Chile. Not pretty to watch at times, he picks up yellow and red cards but his work rate is great and he can score too. With 42 caps for Chile, Medel has served his country well. With a nickname like “El Pitbull” how could he not get in the top 5!
|3||Claudio Bravo||Real Sociedad, Spain|
Goalkeeper for Real Sociedad and Chile, Bravo has racked up 27 clean sheets for his current club since 2006, and although has had a tough time including severe injuries, he went on to help the team return to La Primera. Bravo has accumulated 63 international caps and also serves as captain for the national side.
|2||Arturo Vidal||Juventus, Itlay|
Vidal is a midfielder and plays for Juventus who have just won this year’s Scudetto. His skills shone in such a way from Chile that the German club Bayer Leverkusen signed him up making the transfer one of the most expensive in Chilean football history (approximately £6.8 million). He is one of only 4 Chilean football players to win the Scudetto.
|1||Alexis Sanchez||Barcelona, Spain|
Alexis comes from very humble beginnings, such that the Mayor of his town in Chile gave him a pair of football boots after seeing him playing barefoot. How times have changed for the golden boy; Sanchez signed for Spanish giants Barca in the summer of 2011 for an estimated £37.5 million, and has scored 15 goals from 25 appearances. He is a natural striker, with pace and ability in any position up front. In December 2011 such was his fame that he became an ambassador for the Choose to Live Healthy campaign in Chile and according to a survey from FIFA, he has the brighest future of any young Chilean player.
Let the debating begin!