The impact and legacy of Jorge Sampaoli

With Jorge Sampaoli having parted ways with the Chilean national team and in all likelihood with Chilean football in general we asked three of our contributors Joel Sked (JS), Adam Clark (AC) and Adam Brandon (AB) to take their own individual look at the impact of the diminutive Argentinean on Chilean football.

The drought ending Copa America triumph

Chile had never won the Copa America. Chile had never won a penalty shoot-out. When Alexis Sanchez stepped up to take the fourth Chile penalty he knew that he had the chance to end that sorry wait and make history. The boy from Tocopilla seemed the calmest man in the stadium as he panenked home the spot kick, and with that act he sparked celebrations that would last long in to the night from Arica to Antarctica.

A solid 2-0 win over Ecuador opened proceedings but it was far from a vintage Sampaoli display. A 3-3 draw against a weak Mexico side appeared to highlight all of Chile’s defensive problems that had been noted by their critics before the tournament begun. And when Arturo Vidal crashed his Ferrari under the influence of alcohol the next day, Chile seemed destined to fail as once again ill-discipline had reared its ugly head. Most polls at the time saw Chileans split down the middle as to whether or not he should continue to play in the tournament. The ANFP and Sampaoli backed him and although Vidal’s impact in the next four matches would, in my opinion, be minimal, few Chileans would argue with that decision now.

After all the drama that followed the debacles on and off the pitch, Sampaoli was fortunate to face a weak Bolivia side to hammer and allow Chile to rebuild confidence again. They did just that with one of the best performances of the tournament in one of the most one-sided matches you are ever likely to see.

If the victory over Bolivia gave them confidence then their quarter final triumph against a dull, cynical and defensive Uruguay gave them belief. La Celeste were full of confidence beforehand that they would once again spoil the party, but Chile had other ideas as they dominated the ball for ninety minutes whilst both sides committed numerous fouls and the card count for both sides probably should have been higher. Infamously Gonzalo Jara would have his say that led to Cavani’s sending off. Jara should have been sent off for his action too of course and surely would have been if the referee had seen it, and eventually he would rightly missed the rest of the tournament.

If Jara had been sent off then Chile and Sampaoli may have no Copa America to boast, which perhaps goes to show that all great managers tend to be a lucky with it. In the end Isla’s goal a few minutes from time proved decisive and gave Chile a deserved victory. Uruguay, frustrated that they couldn’t take the game to penalties, couldn’t resist trying to end Alexis Sanchez’s tournament early and Jorge Fucile rightly saw red.

Confidence was high before the semi-final against Peru but in the opening exchanges the hosts struggled to get going and they could have easily lost Arturo Vidal early on. Vidal was lucky to stay on the pitch but Carlos Zambrano certainly wasn’t by the time he raked his studs down Charles Aranguiz’s back. Unlike in the Uruguay game, this sending off really changed the game and Peru were forced to sit back and we saw Chile dominate the ball and one player who delivered time and time again for Sampaoli would take his chances. It was a night to remember for Eduardo Vargas who grabbed a brace, the winner was a contender for goal of the tournament and would earn him a share of the top scorer award. Once the final whilst blew, you could see the relief on Sampaoli’s face and he even appeared to wipe away a tear.

The final itself was a tense affair, that was slightly ruined by the referee not letting the game flow. Sampaoli prowled the touchline, animated as always, but notably more edgy and nervous. Sanchez, Vargas, Vidal, Valdivia, Arànguiz and Diaz all snatched at chances for Chile that on another day you would expect them to do better. Argentina had their moments too especially right at the end of normal time but by extra time, every break in play was used as an excuse for the players to recover from cramps and knocks they were having to endure.

By the second half of extra time penalties felt inevitable. Chile’s record in penalty shoot outs was poor whilst the Argentine’s had a very good history from twelve yards, and had already won one in this tournament, Sampaoli was seen shouting at his troops who were about to take the most important kick of their careers, intense as ever, keeping their focus. Fernandez, Vidal, Aranguiz all took perfect penalties whilst Banega and Higuaìn failed. Alexis Sanchez had the final say and wheeled away to the corner flag to celebrate with his adoring public. Sampaoli meanwhile celebrated with his staff and players nearby, fists pumping and a face bursting with pride and emotion.

As the dust settled, bitter shouts of foul play from the sides Chile had beaten emerged. The truth is that Sampaoli moulded a side ready to dominate and win this competition. No side scored more goals, had more shots, had more passes or possession than Chile. Aside from the Mexico game, no opposition player managed to score against them, Messi famously didn’t even get a shot away in the final. Whenever we see sides show that kind of dominance then a certain amount of fortune always comes with it. Sampaoli had to work hard to make this Chile side winners, and with it has set a benchmark for future Chilean sides to come. (AB)

The legacy of Jorge Sampaoli

Jorge Sampaoli’s love affair with Chilean football eventually reached its denouement. Without being too disregarding of a nation I have come to feel passionately about, I am surprised it lasted so long. Who could have ever imagined the road Chilean football would be led down when this folically-challenged Argentinean manager arrived to take over at Universidad de Chile at the end of 2010, ahead of the 2011 Apertura.

Even by South American standards Sampaoli had led quite the nomadic existence in his fledgling management career even if he hadn’t taken charge of a top-flight club in his native Argentina. The anecdotes are plentiful and never fail to amuse during Sampaoli’s rise as a manager. From admitting to listening to tapes of Marcelo Bielsa when out running to managing from a tree after being sent from the sidelines.

He was the ultimate Bielsa-disciple. Find an article on Sampaoli and that phrase will be omni-present. He never hid or played down his admiration for Bielsa and it came through in his football, even if there were initial teething problems in his first few months at La U. Yet in a little under two years Sampaoli transformed Chile’s second team into one of, if not the best, in South America. Two league titles, a Copa Chile and most importantly of all a Copa Sudamericana title. It was La U’s very first continental title and only the second ever won by a Chilean team.

It was more than trophy-laden success. It was the way it was achieved. I was fortunate to take a keen interest in Chilean football around the same time Sampaoli was starting to implement his ideas, and what ideas those were! New to the country’s football I didn’t want to ‘follow’ one of the big teams but it was difficult not to get swept up in the exhilarating and swashbuckling nature of the side’s football. The football was simply thrilling – fast and direct. It shared similar ideals to pep Guardiola’s Barcelona but it was more exciting. I urge anyone to try and find the full 90 minutes of La U’s 4-0 desecration of Ronaldinho’s Flamengo.

In December 2012 he was the obvious choice to take over from Claudio Borghi as national team manager, with the Argentine failing to carry on the foundations laid by El Loco Bielsa. Players understandably responded and talked of the ‘feeling’ Sampaoli gave them in relation to Bielsa. They were more comfortable in the more direct and anarchic system, qualifying comfortable for the World Cup.

Over in Chile for the World Cup I was able to soak up the atmosphere of the nation and there was this sense, a ‘feeling’, that it was going to be something special. It was perhaps best summed up by Spain boss Vicente del Bosque who likened Chile’s team to 11 kamikazes. Only a breadth of the bar stopped Chile progressing in to the quarter-final (oh Pinigol!).

There was talk then of Sampaoli possibly moving on. But he knew something special could be achieved the following summer as Chile hosted the Copa America. And he delivered. It was here that Sampaoli’s management became more rounded. There was still the same intensity, the hunting, the Duracell-powered sideline performance. Yet he displayed a more pragmatic, measured side to his tactical repertoire, notably in the final victory over Argentina as La Roja shackled Lionel Messi.

It was the apex. Chilean football’s nirvana. Even with a contract until Russia 2018, the time was now to step back and make his move to Europe. By 2018 many of the major names will be the other side of 30, while there is a dearth of young stars to replace or freshen the squad. But Sampaoli continued, and even if they finally defeated Brazil in the qualifiers the divorce got ugly.

It was a shame the way it ended but he was still be fondly remembered. A legend. A conqueror. If not quite achieving immortality in the eyes of the nation, hero-status. Now there is the fear that La Roja will follow in the same footsteps as La U. Los Azules are onto their fifth manager after Sampaoli with one league title and a Copa Chile but no progress made on the continental stage. With World Cup qualification heating up and busy summers ahead, Juan Antonio Pizzi has a substantial job on his hand. Change the philosophy to suit his aging team or continue on the path of the anarchists.

One thing for sure is that path won’t be as thrilling or as satisfying as the one which was taken by Jorge Sampaoli. (JS)

After Sampaoli, where to now for Chile

Does Jorge Sampaoli’s departure also mean the end of Chile’s golden generation? That’s the question that will haunt every fan of the La Roja with the departure of the Argentinean coach.

Chile’s successes since 2010 have been built on the meld of generational talents such as Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal with the discipline and style that Marcelo Bielsa implanted and Jorge Sampaoli continued (with the brief, unsuccessful interruption of Claudio Borghi).

It was a project which benefited from a remarkable group of Chilean talents, not just Vidal and Sanchez but Gary Medel and Mauricio Isla who were stars as far back as the U-17 World Cup in 2007 when Chile finished third. But it was supplemented by Sampaoli’s ability to raise the level of the rest of the team to their level, most notably Eduardo Vargas who was equally prolific for Sampaoli’s Universdad de Chile side as he has been for the national team, while stuttering elsewhere in club football.

The flexibility of Sampaoli’s Chile, able to fluidly change from 3-4-3 to 4-3-1-2 and a bewildering variety of other set-ups covered the weaknesses within the squad – principally a lack of quality centre-backs or dominating centre-forwards – to create a whole much more than the sum of its parts.

Can new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi do the same? He is not a fellow disciple of Bielsa, identifying himself instead with the possession style of Pep Guardiola. But he has also downplayed the role of the coach, claiming “The leading role is that of the players, we coaches can only accompany”.

Those words should be the most encouraging sign for Chilean fans that the team doesn’t necessarily need to return to step one. But the truth of Pizzi’s words will now be tested and it is one of the fundamental questions of football – can players define themselves as a collective or must the nature of the team be dictated from above?

If the former is true there is hope that Chile may build on their success and permanently raise the level of the national team to continue to challenge Brazil and Argentina for continental supremacy. But if it is the latter, Chile fans may have to be patient and lower the expectations that Sampaoli did so much to lift. (AC)



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