Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Profile: Arturo Vidal

It’s turning into a tough night in San Juan. Chile are embroiled in a surprisingly difficult Copa America match with a surprisingly obstinate Mexico side. It is a night where Chilean international Arturo Vidal finds himself apologising to his team mates, once again. After an ill conceived volley has almost gone out for a throw in, a few minutes later some edge-of-the-box trickery has resulted in another hasty and fruitless shot. Mexico are defending a one-goal lead and despite their dominance, Chile are running out of options.

Eventually, the Chileans strike back with two set-piece goals. In a Copa America tournament where the favourites are struggling, Chile laboured to narrowly beat a massively under strength Mexico team. The second goal was a bullet header from that man Vidal. As the whistle blows, relieved and elated, Vidal celebrates with his team mates. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Germany, some very anxious people in Leverkusen and Munich are waiting for Vidal's return as they'd like his help in resolving a transfer issue, namely his.

Vidal is one of those players who confounds the tacticians. Technically, he’s supposed to be a defensive midfielder. However the ten Bundesliga goals and eleven assists to his name last season suggests a slightly more rounded player, to put it mildly.

In fact, Vidal is the epitome of the kind of modern midfielder who can do pretty much everything a modern football coach asks of him. They may be different players in many respects but in terms of football values, he is similar to Nuri Sahin or Luka Modric. More than an all-rounder, in the sense of a utility player. More like the cricketer Ian Botham who was brilliant with the bat, ball or in the field, Arturo Vidal is a jack of all trades and master of all, to boot.

There is an element of romance about his back story. Vidal hails from San Joaquin, a working class community in Santiago. No doubt he had to emerge from a congested field of hungry boys, desperate to fulfil their dreams of professional football and improve their lives. Vidal joined the youth ranks of the Santiago giants, Colo Colo. Two Aperturas and one Clausura later, he made the move to Europe and Bayer Leverkusen.

Needless to say, as a Leverkusen player, he has found domestic honours somewhat hard to come by, although he has come pretty close to the Bundesliga title since his arrival in 2007. Last season, however, was his big season and Vidal, perhaps benefiting from his experience in Marcelo Bielsa’s Chilean World Cup team, has matured into one of the best midfielders in the Bundesliga. Next season, he should be regarded as one of the best in the world as he takes his place in the UEFA Champions League. The question is, for which club will he be playing?

Vidal’s contract is up next year with no suggestion that he intends to renew. Leverkusen’s position is that they plan to keep him for the remainder of his contract, even if that means letting him go for no transfer fee. Presumably, the rationale behind this is that if he helps last season’s League runners up finally win the Bundesliga title and steers them into the Second Round of the Champions League then he will have easily made back the roughly €10 million that Bayern Munich have offered to take him a year early. Alternatively, Sporting Director Rudi Völler is making big noises to try and extract more money.

An added complication is a bid from Italian club, Juventus. However, to what extent Vidal can be lured by the prospect of Serie A football and no Champions League may depend on whether the Old Lady can convince him that at 23 he still has time to grow into a renewed Juve or how much cash they are prepared to offer him.

At the time of writing, the smart money seems to be that he will stay at Leverkusen for another season before joining his old boss Jupp Heynckes at Bayern Munich. However, for all we know he could arrive at the airport to take him back to Germany from Argentina, with or without a Copa America winner’s medal, only to find a Learjet waiting for him on the runway containing a well known sausage merchant holding a flight plan to Munich.

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