With 14 league titles to their name and a massive fan base, Universidad de Chile are unquestionably one of their country’s biggest clubs. The only team to have enjoyed more domestic success are arch-rivals Colo Colo, with whom they contest Chile’s superclásico. La U also maintain a fierce rivalry with old foes Universidad Catolica, with their derby game known as El Clásico Universitario.
Though as passionate about their team as any set of fans, it is the loyalty of the club’s supporters that is the true hallmark of the Santiago outfit. And while the club has endured its share of ups and downs during its 84-year history, it has rarely been out of the spotlight. FIFA.com takes a look back at one of Chile’s most cherished teams.
Birth of an institution
The genesis of Universidad de Chile can be traced as far back as 1902, when a group of university students and graduates came together to found Internado FC. In early 1927 the club wished to take part in the burgeoning Liga Central, but meeting the entry criteria meant joining forces with two other clubs: Atletico Universitario and Nautico Universitario.
Thus on 24 May that year, the three sides merged to form Club Universitario de Deportes, which adopted the white shirts and blue shorts and socks of Internado FC. The following year the club adopted Nautico’s old emblem, a chuncho (species of owl), as its badge – the bird being chosen for its association with "wisdom, knowledge and harmony of body and spirit".
In 1930 the club not only introduced the royal blue jersey that is still in use today but also began receiving the support of the Sporting Federations at the Universidad de Chile and the Universidad Catolica. The assistance of the latter would come to an end in 1934, however, when students from La Católica left to form their own university side. That decision paved the way for Club Universitario de Deportes to rename itself Club Deportivo de la Universidad de Chile.
Making of a legend
After initially competing in the country’s amateur championship, La U sought permission to join the nascent professional league in 1936. With Universidad Catolica having also requested entry at the same time, league officials decreed that only one university side could be permitted, prompting the two applicants to go up against first-division sides to decide who got the available berth. While La Católica suffered a humbling 6-2 defeat by Colo Colo, Los Chunchos went down by a more respectable 2-1 to Audax Italiano, thereby gaining entry to the league.
One of the heroes of the Audux game was goalkeeper Eduardo ‘The Octopus’ Simian, who would prove a key figure when the club claimed its maiden league crown in 1940. "That triumph proves that with self-belief you can turn a single grain of sand into a great monument," one newspaper columnist said at the time.
The late 1950s signalled the start of a glorious decade for the club, as then coach Luis Alamos assembled a team largely made up of talents from the club’s academy, such as Leonel Sanchez, Carlos Campos, Luis Eyzaguirre and Braulio Musso. Between 1959 and 1969, La U not only claimed six league titles and two more runners-up spots, but they did so playing a graceful style of football that earned them the moniker el Ballet Azul (the Blue Ballet).
"It was a pleasure to watch them," the distinguished sports journalist Sergio Brotfeld said years later. "The understanding they had between them and their commitment to a style of play made watching them a veritable artistic spectacle. They will forever have a place in the annals of Chilean football," he added.
While there were numerous high points during that decade, the denouement of the 1959 title race was especially memorable for Chuncho fans. Their heroes left it late but clawed back a four-point deficit over the final four games, helped by a memorable 3-2 win over Universidad Catolica.
Level on points with Colo Colo after the final matchday, La U put the icing on the cake with a 2-1 play-off win over their Cacique rivals. "I’ll never forget the goal I scored from a 40m free-kick in the play-off," Sanchez recalled years later. "It marked the start of an era for that unforgettable team."
The club’s international profile also continued to grow, helped by their participation in the inaugural edition of the Copa Libertadores in 1960 and the fact they supplied eight members of the Chile squad that finished third on home soil at the 1962 FIFA World Cup™ – a tournament where Sanchez finished joint-top scorer on four goals. What’s more, following a notable 4-3 victory over Pele’s Santos in 1963, Universidad went on a European tour where they took a number of impressive scalps, including that of Helenio Herrera’s Inter Milan, who they beat 2-1 at the San Siro.
The military coup that shook Chile in 1973 also provoked an internal crisis within the club, which in 1978 went on to become the Corporación de Fútbol Profesional de la Universidad de Chile (Universidad de Chile Professional Football Corporation). This newly-formed private entity severed its university links on 1 September 1980, though they did keep hold of their original name and the club crests.
Runners-up in the national championship in 1980, with a team featuring current Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini at centre-back, La U hit rock-bottom after suffering relegation in 1989. This body blow only served to strengthen the fans’ allegiance, however, with the club’s supporters – known as bullangueros (the noisy ones) – roaring their team straight back up ahead of the 1990 campaign.
Their return to the top flight laid the foundations for the 1994 title win, the eighth in the club’s history and the end of a drought that had lasted for 25 years. Starring in that championship-winning squad was Marcelo Salas, whose strike in the 1-0 clásico victory against La Católica was key in that trophy success. "That was the most special goal I scored for La U," recalled Salas. "It was like we finally put relegation behind us and started looking forwards again."
The next ten years featured another four national titles, with the 1999 campaign memorable for a 33-match unbeaten run and a 13-game winning streak, records that remain in place to this day. Yet despite this period of success, mounting debts led to bankruptcy in 2006. This situation saw private company Azul Azul take over the running of the club in 2007, a role which they continue to perform.
Rebuilding the club took time, though another league triumph in the 2009 Apertura proved La U were on the right track. This progress was underlined by their run to the last four of the 2010 Libertadores, the third time they have reached that stage of the competition, though they were denied a first final appearance and a tilt at a first continental title by aggregate defeat to Mexico’s Guadalajara.
Recent campaigns have also been fruitful for Universidad de Chile. Under the guidance of Argentinian coach Jorge Sampaoli, the club bounced back from a 2-0 first-leg defeat against Universidad Catolica to win the final of the 2011 Apertura 4-3 on aggregate. In this year’s Clausura, meanwhile, they flew out of the blocks by winning their first nine games, a record in the Chilean professional game.
As if that were not impressive enough, their 4-0 Copa Sudamericana Round-of-16 first-leg win away to Flamengo on 20 October set two new benchmarks in Chilean club football. The clean sheet meant the club had now gone a record 450 minutes without conceding in continental competition, while the margin of victory was the biggest by a Chilean team away to Brazilian opposition.
Universidad de Chile play their home matches at the Estadio Nacional Julio Martinez Pradanos, better known as the Estadio Nacional. Located in the west of the capital Santiago, the state-owned arena was inaugurated in December 1938 and hosted ten matches at the 1962 FIFA World Cup, including the Final. It currently has capacity for 48,000 seated spectators.
Eduardo Simián, Leonel Sánchez, Carlos Campos, Braulio Musso, Carlos Contreras, Luis Eyzaguirre, Renato Álvarez, Rubén Marcos, Jorge Socías, Alberto Quintano, Sandrino Castec, Sergio Vargas, Luis Musrri, Arturo Salah, Manuel Pellegrini, Mariano Puyol, Víctor Hugo Castañeda, Marcelo Salas, Diego Rivarola.
*The honours listed above are considered to be the club’s major titles and, as such, are not intended to be a full list of achievements.