No other member of the Chilean national squad has been part of the senior set-up as long as David Pizarro, the cultured 35-year-old central midfielder having made his national-team debut back in 1999. Yet despite also being the only current Chile international to have been in the squad that grabbed bronze at the Olympic Football Tournament Sydney 2000, several of his Roja team-mates have nearly double the player's tally of 46 senior caps.
The reason for this can be found in the eight years, between 2005 and 2013, which Pizarro spent in the international wilderness for personal reasons, a period which coincided with arguably his most fruitful seasons in European club football. Turning on the style for the likes of Inter Milan, Roma and Fiorentina, the gifted orchestrator was a trophy winner on seven occasions, including during a brief loan spell at Manchester City.
His eventual return to the national-team fold came with coach Jorge Sampaoli’s squad in the final stages of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. In spite of typically assured displays, El Fantastista did not make the cut for Chile’s Brazilian adventure, though he took the setback in his stride and waited patiently for another opportunity. That chance would come this year, as part of the squad that made history by claiming Chile’s first ever Copa America – Pizarro playing his part with four appearances, all as a substitute, in his country’s six games.
Now once again back in Chile at his first club Santiago Wanderers, following 17 seasons spent on European soil, Pizarro agreed to speak to FIFA.com about La Roja’s glorious present.
FIFA.com: Has Chile’s Copa America triumph taken on a new dimension now that several weeks have gone by?
David Pizarro: We achieved something important. Winning a championship that our national team had never won before is a very big deal, and we’re fully aware of that. What worries me now is hearing that they want to make 4 July [the date of the 2015 Copa final] a national Day for Sport in Chile. That makes me wonder: do people think we’re never going to win anything else? (Laughs)
What’s the next step for this squad of players?
The plan is to make the most of this generation of players and keep challenging for trophies. The way Chile play was [originally] put in place by [Marcelo] Bielsa. I compare it with what Cruyff did at Barcelona: he instilled an ideology which to this day is bringing significant results. That’s the issue in question. The goal is to change the destiny of Chilean football history.
The Copa America success has earned Chile a ticket to the FIFA Confederations Cup. How much will it mean to take part?
We’re really excited about it! We’ll be competing against heavyweight national teams and it’ll be an important preliminary test ahead of, God willing, another World Cup campaign. It’ll mean a great deal for a generation of players that are very bold, very gutsy and have a lot of character. We want to keep breaking records and build on the Copa America success.
What’ll be the hardest part about trying to stay successful?
Staying humble and not letting egos become a problem. Let me give you an example: social media. I can’t say that I see much point in it, in my view it’s a tool that, more than anything else, serves to inflate people’s egos. The key will be to maintain the same levels of passion and commitment, particularly given how hard it was to get this far. If we can manage that, we’ll be on the right track.
Earlier you mentioned the World Cup, a competition that you’ve yet to appear in. At the age of 35 and with a new qualifying phase about to begin, do you dream of making it to Russia 2018?
Very much so. Due to decisions I took at the time, and which I still totally stand by, I missed out on other World Cups, but I’m still in with a chance of staying involved with the national squad. And there’s nothing bigger in football than the World Cup. Even so, if I don’t manage to make it as a player I won’t let it get to me. Perhaps I’ll need to wait until I’m a coach instead… (Laughs) I’ve got to get to a World Cup, whatever it takes! (Laughs again)
Is there any risk of complacency setting in after making history at the Copa America? I ask because South American Zone qualifying will begin shortly...
For a footballer, at national-team level, [appearing at] a World Cup will always be the pinnacle. In world football, that’s the highest you can go. We’re now champions of South America, but Chilean players shouldn’t settle for that. We’re part of a process. There are players coming through with the same hunger [for success] as those currently in the squad. And for this generation, the likes of Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, Gary Medel and Claudio Bravo, they’re at major clubs where life is constantly demanding. They’re called upon to take responsibility at their clubs, they’re all under pressure to win, and that helps the national team to stay competitive too. Chile mustn’t lose that determination to go toe-to-toe with anybody. As a Chilean footballer, that’s what concerns me.
Players like the ones you mention and Chile’s performances in general mean they’ll now be among the favourites at every competition, including World Cup qualifying. What are your thoughts on that?
There’s no doubt that Chile have earned that [favourites] tag. But, if there’s one thing the Copa America made clear it’s that these qualifiers will be the hardest they’ve been for a long time. On top of the leading contenders from previous campaigns you’ve got Peru and a resurgent Paraguay. What’s more, you’ve got to go and play in places like Bolivia and Ecuador, which is always incredibly tough. Look, I spent a long time in Europe and I’d always give my [European] team-mates stick about their national teams’ qualifying phases… They just don’t compare to ours!
On an individual note, how would you define the role you play in La Roja’s dressing room?
I see myself as having an important role in terms of the group as a whole. That’s something that’s always mattered to me, that the squad always pulls in the same direction, that nobody goes off alone down the wrong path or tries to put themselves before the squad. Those are things that I won’t stand for, because I understand that this is a team sport.
Has the fact you’re back playing in Chile again given you a different perspective on pulling on the national-team jersey and the success you’ve had?
No doubt about it. Spending so much time abroad means you miss the day-to-day stuff, and now that I’m back I’m still finding myself surprised by it. Not just by the amount of thanks we get for having won the title, but by the amount of coverage the national team is getting. But we have to be a bit wary: Chile isn’t just about the national team, we’ve a domestic championship too and that must be shown respect.