And so the waiting is over. The Chilean Football Association (ANFP) has officially announced that Argentinian coach Claudio Borghi will replace his fellow countryman Marcelo Bielsa at the helm of La Roja. The appointment comes with the 2011 Copa America and the start of the qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ just a few months away.
“Is it XL?” joked the typically jovial Borghi as he took receipt of his coaching tracksuit from ANFP President Sergio Jadue. Describing his feelings on taking charge of the national team, the 46-year-old had this to say: “This is the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced in my life, but when you’re a coach you experience things like this. I hope I can prove myself worthy of the job. We’re going to make every effort to ensure things work out as well as they can.”
The Argentinian already has experience of coaching in Chile. After three seasons at the helm of Audax Italiano, he then enjoyed a hugely successful two-year spell with Colo Colo, taking El Cacique to an unprecedented four straight Clausura and Apertura titles in 2006 and 2007, and steering them to the Copa Sudamericana final in his first season in charge. As a reflection of their superiority, during that time the Santiago giants supplied more players to Marcelo Bielsa’s national side than any other club.
“Marcelo had some really good results but someone else always has to come in sooner or later, no matter how well things have gone for you,” said Borghi in reference to his predecessor. “We feel up to the job and we hope to build on all the good things Bielsa has left behind.”
Borghi, whose first game in charge will be the friendly against Portugal on 26 March, has the immediate task of preparing the side for the upcoming Copa America in Argentina and the FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Expressing his intention of building a national team that “every Chilean can be proud of”, he said his tenure could continue beyond the qualifying competition, depending on whether he reaches his objectives or not.
“I’ve got the telephone numbers of all the players, but I didn’t want to call them before because I didn’t want to influence what they might have to say in the press,” he added. “I’ll start ringing them now, though, to discuss their availability and introduce myself to the ones I don’t know personally.”
Though Borghi may not have the highest of profiles outside South America, there can be no doubting his credentials in the game. A talented creative midfielder in his playing days, he represented clubs of the calibre AC Milan, Flamengo and River Plate and was regarded at the time as a potential successor to Diego Maradona.
He began his career with Argentinos Juniors and was their outstanding performer in an unforgettable Intercontinental Cup final against Juventus in 1985. “If Borghi had played another ten games like that one in Japan, he would have been another Maradona,” said former Juve star Michel Platini, in admiration of Borghi’s mesmerising display that evening, although it was the Italians who eventually won out on penalties. The following year the Argentinian formed part of the Albiceleste squad that would win the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico.
“I’ve always been a bit of an oddity. I never do what people expect me to,” he said. There is more than a grain of truth in that statement. After having a penalty saved in a Chilean superclásico between Colo Colo and Universidad de Chile, for example, Borghi attempted to put the rebound away by chipping the ball with his right leg crossed behind his left (a speciality of his known in Spanish as the rabona). Much to his chagrin, he missed.
The mercurial midfielder also has his idiosyncrasies off the pitch: he is famous for his highly original and outspoken comments, not to mention his fear of flying, which requires him to travel everywhere by car.
Having coached Independiente and Boca Juniors and steered Argentinos Juniors to their first title in 25 years, Borghi believes he has the experience to succeed again in a country where he has already spent 13 years of his career and where his family still live despite his frequent postings to Argentina.
“I feel 50 per cent Argentinian and 50 per cent Chilean,” he said in an interview with the Argentinian magazine El Gráfico three years ago. Today, his loyalties will doubtless have shifted a little further to one side of the Andes.