Interview – Felipe Gutiérrez

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The following is an interview which appeared in Dutch football magazine Voetbal International (edition 3 which came out on January 16, 2013). We here at The Lone Star have been fortunate that writer Peter Wekking and Voetbal International have allowed us to publish it in English. We would also like to thank friend of the The Lone Star, and all round good chap, Michiel Jongsma, who not only drew our attention to the interview but translated it for us as well. Enjoy!

It was the 30th minute, Lausanne Sports – FC Twente (0-2) and Felipe Gutiérrez dribbled inside from the right flank. His body movement suggested an easy pass to the middle but, out of nothing, a split pass came, launching FC Twente-midfielder Willem Janssen. The pass wasn’t rewarded with a goal, but it illustrated the class of young Gutiérrez.

After the game, Steve McClaren said: “Felipe oozes creativity. He can lose the ball three times in a row and then, all of a sudden, he pops up with a decisive pass. From that perspective, he’s comparable to Kenneth Perez in the year we won the title.”

This is why FC Twente’s chairman said earlier Felipe Gutiérrez can add to FC Twente what Adam Maher adds to AZ Alkmaar. And because of this class FC Twente paid 3 million euros and handed a five year deal to the Chilean.

Felipe Gutiérrez was born in Quintero and moved to Viña del Mar when he was three years old. His father worked there as a manager of a catering company, while his mother was a housewife. Even though, she was able to dish out a mean tackle every now and then.

“Everybody at our home was crazy about football”, Felipe tells, “My father, mother, brother and sisters, we all played team football. My brother Orlando and I were always out on the street, playing. Rain, cold, nothing could stop us. Ball to foot and off we went.”

They dreamt seeing Salas’ dribbling or the aerial power of Zamorano.

“Their nicknames were enough to thrill us,” Gutiérrez remembers. “El Matador and Bam Bam. We saw them shine at the World Cup in 1998. Two years later Zamorano won the bronze medal with Chile at the Olympics. But football really became an art for me when we got cable and Ronaldinho entered the living room. What a monster he was. His dribbling, the way he skipped past opponents, the preciseness of his free kicks; everything about him was good. And with that smile on his face he embodied what football’s all about: Pure fun.”

Before his sixteenth birthday, Gutierrez was part of the youth set-up of Everton Viña Del Mar – a mid-table club in the Premier División of Chile. But then he attracted interest of Universidad de Catolica.

“Before that moment I only played football because I enjoyed it. From that moment on I became aware I could make a career out of it. Together with Colo Colo and Universidad de Chile, Universidad Católica is one of the most popular clubs in Chile. In our country we always have trials for the young talents at the beginning of the calendar year. I too was invited. Because I was scouted by Católica I was in a luxury position, but I still had to prove myself.

“After the trials we sat in the dressing room for over an hour. And nobody told us who was spotted and who wasn’t. The mood was tense. Around me I saw eyes full of both hope and fear. We were all very aware one or two bad passes could cost us the chance of having a professional career. In the end my name was mentioned first. Only a few moments later I had my medical and my contract was already in place. I was happy like a little child.

“Universidad Católica is known for its youth academy. All first teams in Chile contain Católica youth products. When it comes to infrastructure and facilities they are up there with the best of South America. Católica also has a campus for the young players and since my hometown was over 120 kilometres away I went ‘in’. It changed my life in a drastic fashion. I couldn’t see my family every day and I missed my friends. Homesickness isn’t too unfamiliar for most Chileans. What kept me motivated? Playing football all day and noticing my own improvement. Football’s transcends everything, even the negative feelings.”

He improved rapidly and soon he was allowed to train with the first team, until he made his debut in 2009, only 18 years old.

“After that things went really quick, it was like entering a rollercoaster. After a few games as a substitute I quickly became a regular. I was an attacking midfielder with a free role. With two goals I contributed to the winning of the championship in 2010. Bielsa took me to the World Cup in South Africa. I was in the so-called ‘shadow-team’ of talents that accompanies the main team during big tournaments. The young players always copy the playing style of the upcoming opponent in training and get the chance to pick up experience.

“From next to nothing I was on the field with heroes like Alexis Sánchez and Arturo Vidal. It was a dazzling experience. The year after I made my definite breakthroughand  found form. I scored 10 goals that season, and in important games too.  We played Copa Libertadores and won the Copa Chile. Sports Magazine El Gráfico named me ‘revelation of the season’. Looking back at it, it’s hard to comprehend what happened to me in those two years.

“After that I felt I had become Católica’s best player. I was the one who made the difference. When I was with the national selection I heard stories of players like Sánchez, Vidal and Medel. And it made me realise: I to want to go to Europe. Europe symbolizes a challenge, ambition. That’s where the real football’s played, where you can gain respect and become a legend.

“The difference in quality is still quite big. That’s the problem for Neymar. If he was playing for Real Madrid the whole football community would rate him beside Messi and Ronaldo. Because that’s how good he is. But he plays in Brazil. So everybody’s still thinking: ‘Well, let’s wait and see’.

“My luck was the rising of Chilean football over the last few years. The Chilean footballing style is a mix of the Argentinian and the Brazilian style. We can be tough and passionate like the Argentinians and play beautiful, playful football like the Brazilians. The Chileans who have been playing in Europe for a while now have added tactical discipline and mental strength too that. The overall level of football in Chile has benefited from that and is definitely on the up.

“These days the bigger European clubs are scouting in Chile, whereas ten years ago most clubs would wait for a Chilean to prove himself in the Argentinian, Brazilian or Mexican competition for instance. But now, players like Junior Fernandes and I are being directly transferred to clubs like Bayer Leverkusen and FC Twente.”

In Gutiérrez, the Enschede-based club picked up one of Chilean’s finest talents. Gutiérrez had built on his form in 2011 and was already on seven goals out of seventeen games when his manager rang him.

“My manager called me and he doesn’t call too often, so I knew there was something special he needed to tell me. ‘How would you feel about a transfer to The Netherlands?’, he said. I was instantly enthused. ‘Push it through!’, I said. My father lived in the Netherlands in the ’80s after he fled from the Chilean dictator Pinochet. A previous marriage of his resulted in three half-sisters, two of whom live in Zeeland (province in the South-West of the Netherlands).

“Except for the emotional bond the footballing climate of the Netherlands attracted me. Young players are often given the chance and they’re allowed to make mistakes. The last few months I’ve noticed some negativity among the Dutch about their own competition, but that is uncalled for. When I was in South-Africa, I’ve seen from up close how the Dutch national team knocked out both Brazil and Uruguay, two of the best teams of South-America. The Dutch are vice-world champion! And that with a completely Eredivisie-nurtured team.’

Even though Gutiérrez has some family-ties in the Netherlands and he had visited the country several times with the Chilean national team, moving to the Netherlands was a culture shock.

The different timezone, the tidy, organized lifestyle and the unknown language surrounding him, all big differences to what the youngster was used to.

“The first few months, until their tourist visas were up, my mother and girlfriend were with me, after that my father came over. They enlightened my search through the dark and unknown. Moving to the Netherlands was a radical change in my life. I couldn’t understand anybody, that was the biggest limitation. When I would go to a restaurant I’d phone a Spanish acquintance and then gave it to the waiter so he could inform the waiter what kind of dish I wanted to order.

“ In the beginning I wasn’t in touch with my team mates very often. In Chile we were all very amical and open. Overhere it took a while for some to even say hello. Ofcourse the squad tested me as well. In football, apparently you must show what you can do before you’re being accepted. Apparently I did that, because now I am being embraced by most team mates.

“The biggest change however was the football itself. The intensity of practice, the dynamic of games, everything was different. In Chile games tend to be slower. It won’t accelerate until someone makes a dribble or shows some individual skill. At FC Twente it’s: control, play and move on, control, play and move on.

“In the beginning I was completely empty at the end of a game. And in Chile the training was not too intense. Your main focus was remaining fresh for the next game. Over here I initially thought the main focus was on not-making it for next Sunday’s game. Training after training, the players were making live tough for each other and hard tackles were made all the time. Focus is the magic word with everything. If you would go in hard on a training in Chile, everybody would jump up and tell you off.”

Gutiérrez was introduced to the Dutch audience against FC Groningen in the first league match of the season. He came on as a substitute in the second half and, with his class, he immediately added to the pace of Twente’s game. His first touch was a 50 yard volley-pass to a team mate. The following months Gutiérrez was mainly used a substitute to give the young Chilean some time to get used to the rhythm and pace of the Dutch game. At the end of November a damaged meniscus followed by minor surgery put a hold on the development of Gutiérrez.

“But now, I feel I am ready,” Gutiérrez says. “Over the past few months I have laid down a foundation to succeed in the Netherlands. I have worked hard and invested in myself through extra training. That’s always been my attitude. My family and friends have seen me play for FC Twente and they’ve noticed the change. They think I’ve become a different player. Physically stronger, more of a man. I’m not a lightweight any more like before, one you could easily push away. Besides that, I’ve added to my stamina, now I can keep going for 90 minutes. I do feel I need to mature my game. I’m still a little too playful, too eager to find the beautiful solution where a simple pass can suffice.”

Gutiérrez feels it’s time to step into the limelight. He feels he should be adapted to the Dutch lifestyle and football by now.

“We’re busy arranging a permanent visa for my girlfriend and I think everything will normalize once that has been dealt with. Plus, I am already 22. If you want to become a true great you have to be a presence by then. Look at Messi and Sánchez – 25 and 24 respectively – they have a whole history of top football behind them. I think my learning period is over now and in the next few months I need to make the next step. I know the team, I know how we’re trying to play and I know what the manager desires from me.

“In 2013, I have two goals: I want to become Dutch Champions with FC Twente and I want to become a regular starter here. And with that, I mean a first team player. One whose being picked by the manager without hesitation because he’s of importance.”

Thanks once again to Michiel Jongsma, Peter Wekking and Voetbal International.

Photo taken from cooperativa.cl

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