There’s no question that 2010 was Arturo Vidal’s year. The Chile star came on in leaps and bounds across the 12-month period and has begun attracting attention from many of Europe’s biggest clubs.
At the heart of the Bayer Leverkusen midfield, the powerful tackler rates as one of the German Bundesliga’s strongest and most consistent performers, while a string of stirring displays in national team colours at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa last summer point to a rosy future in the La Roja set-up.
"We played some great football. Unfortunately, we didn’t score the goals we needed, and then our lack of experience at major tournaments meant we were knocked out by a much bigger nation (Brazil). It’s a shame – with a bit of luck, we could have gone further,” reflected Vidal in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
The combative and versatile midfielder, who had a tough upbringing on the streets of his native San Joaquin, arrived in the Rhineland in 2007, but the 23-year-old has only become truly valuable to Leverkusen this season with a string of driving performances. "Arturo is set to become one of the greats. He’s nowhere near the limits of his ability yet," said seasoned Bayer boss Jupp Heynckes.
In his first three seasons with the Werkself, Vidal scored five goals and provided nine assists in 84 appearances. He also amassed 30 yellow cards, and was sent off for second bookable offences three times. The South American was quickly tagged as one of the Bundesliga’s bad boys, but in Bayer’s steady progress to fourth spot in the league this term, he has chalked up eight goals and six assists in 18 matches and has seen just one yellow card.
Vidal cites increased maturity and effective communication as the reasons behind his stellar progress this campaign. "I’m in my fourth season with Leverkusen now, so I have a great deal more experience. I’ve acclimatised to the Bundesliga. I’m being helped by the fact that I can communicate so well with the coach, who speaks excellent Spanish, as everyone knows.”
Despite his relative youth, the Chile international is already a fair way up the dressing-room hierarchy at his club. "I’ve been in Europe for a while now, and I played at the highest levels in Chile as a youth. I also have my first World Cup under my belt. It's all helped me to develop as a player," continued Vidal, clearly comfortable with the extra responsibility his greater experience brings.
Currently wholly focused on his club, with the Rhineland outfit in the hunt for a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League, Vidal is not wasting any time thinking about potential future career moves: "Where I might end up isn’t important at the moment. My priority for now is to win things with Bayer Leverkusen, and we’ll see what happens after that."
Leverkusen were early casualties in the German Cup this season, but Vidal and Co remain in contention in the Bundesliga and the UEFA Europa League. However, the first match after the winter break put a major dent in Bayer’s domestic title ambitions, as a 3-1 home defeat to runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund left Heynckes’ side 13 points off top spot.
Second place and direct qualification for the Champions League remains a realistic target, with current occupants Hannover just one point ahead, and the Rhineland club are also well-placed in Europe. The young team came through the Europa League group phase undefeated and topped their section ahead of Aris Saloniki, Atletico Madrid and Rosenborg, setting up a Round of 32 tie with Metalist Kharkiv in mid-February.
"We want to get as far as we can. The next round certainly shouldn’t be the end of it. I’m convinced we can do it," said Vidal, confident of victory over the Ukrainian outfit.
Based on his consistent performances at club level, Vidal has also earned regular status in his national team. He made his senior debut in April 2007 against Argentina, and has played with increasing authority on a further 27 occasions since then. "Playing for my country is a huge honour and fills me with enormous pride. My goal is always to take responsibility and play an important role for the team," he said.
At the 43rd Copa America, to be staged in Argentina this July, the midfielder and his team-mates will naturally be hoping to build on their stirring displays in South Africa. However, the draw for the continental showdown has placed them in an intimidating Group C.
Chile’s section includes fellow FIFA World Cup participants Uruguay and Mexico, as well as a resurgent Peru. El Tri will consider themselves a shade unlucky to go out of South Africa 2010 to Argentina in the Round of 16, and La Celeste surged into the semi-finals before ending the tournament in fourth spot.
"Uruguay were outstanding at the World Cup, which shows there’s a lot more to South America than just Brazil and Argentina. But we Chileans are confident. We know we can beat anyone on our day," the player declared.
Chile, Venezuela and Ecuador are the only eligible nations never to have won the Copa America, but Vidal and Co are determined to make their 36th shot at the crown a memorable one, perhaps summoning up the spirit of 1962, when a legendary generation finished that year’s FIFA World Cup on home soil in third place. "Every trophy you win is a big step forward. It would be a stunning success for a nation like Chile," Vidal concluded.