Former Argentina international and current Chile coach Claudio Borghi is certainly no stranger to the challenges life can pose, having had to cope with the death of his father at a very young age. El Bichi found solace and forged his trademark strong personality when getting to grips with the beautiful game alongside his brothers, with his gifts and determination eventually helping him shine professionally with Argentinos Juniors and claim a winners’ medal at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™.
Now 46 years of age, a man who also graced clubs of the stature of River Plate, AC Milan and Flamengo during his playing days is preparing to tackle two more huge challenges as La Roja boss: the 2011 Copa America and the start of the preliminary phase of Brazil 2014. As he continues to ready his side for July’s continental showpiece in Argentina, Marcelo Bielsa’s successor as Chile coach took time out to give his views on issues including El Loco Bielsa’s legacy, the Copa America and recent comparisons between Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi.
FIFA.com: You once said that coaching Boca Juniors was akin to 'being in the bedroom with the windows' open because of the lack of privacy. With that in mind, what is coaching Chile like?
Claudio Borghi: When I said that, I was referring to what was spoken about within the squad. And well, that’s how it felt when I was at Boca. If everything you tell the players ends up in the papers, it becomes a big problem having to confirm or deny things on a daily basis. Boca are a team that generate a lot of news, with at least 15 journalists at every training session. So, you end up getting up in the morning and having to read the papers to see if there’s anything you need to deny. It’s different with the Chilean national team. We’ve not had any problems when it comes to leaking secrets, and by that I mean the content of the chats I have with the players. But anything can happen with the national team because, when news breaks, each media outlet interprets it in the way that suits it best.
Staying on La Roja, how would you rate the progress made by the young lads you took charge of when you were Colo Colo coach and who are now under your command once more?
It’s been four or five years since I coached some of them, others more recently, and they’ve all matured a lot. Alexis Sanchez is the most notable case, because he was a 17-year-old boy back then and now he’s 22 and the change in him is clear.
As regards Sanchez, you said some time ago that he had the potential to be even better than Lionel Messi...
This is a very important period for Alexis’ growth as a player. I consider him to be among the ten best players in the world at the moment. Sometimes your strengths and weaknesses come from the team-mates you have. Making comparisons is never great, but I’d like to see him in a team like Barcelona, who are focused on attacking. That’s not to say that his team [Udinese] don’t attack, but the style of play is very different. So, it’s hard to compare a player at a smaller team with one at a big and powerful club, but I’d still like to see him in a side that was challenging for the title and which was more attacking.
Do the comparisons with Marcelo Bielsa’s time as Chile coach have an impact on your work?
There was football in Chile before Bielsa and there will be after Borghi too. There are coaches that have done a very good job and others for whom it’s not gone so well. Sometimes success is measured by sporting achievements. Not everyone can win titles and that was the case with Bielsa, though he did a very good job even without winning anything. I’m not going to deny how well he did, but I can’t spend all my time thinking about that because I’ve got a job to do too. People always make comparisons, that’s something that’s not going to change. It’d be unfair to forget everything Bielsa achieved, but nor is it my job to make people forget about him. My task is to do my job well and help things go well for us. This kind of thing happens everywhere.
Upon taking the Chilean national team reigns you said that Bielsa hadn’t left you as much material as you’d expected. What had you been expecting and what did you find?
We’ve got a lot of respect for the work done by other people. There’d been a lot of talk about the work he’d done (in terms of videos, dossiers, technology etc) and the truth is there wasn’t anything apart from what we found, which wasn’t much information. We had to start from scratch, so that’s why we got our project underway without making any comparisons. It’s no better and no worse [than what Bielsa did].
Are there any non-Chilean born players that you’d like to bring into the national team set-up?
You have to be very careful with that. I’m not in favour of those foreigners who take another country’s nationality for purely footballing reasons. If someone is going to become Chilean it has to be because they’re grateful for how the country welcomed them or what they gave them, then we’ll see if they get a game or not. The only major sin that Chile may have committed in recent years was not nationalising (Argentinian-born Paraguay striker) Lucas Barrios despite him spending so many years here.
The upcoming Copa America in Argentina will be your first official tournament at La Roja helm. What kind of a welcome do you think you’ll receive from the Argentinian fans and media since you’re a former Albiceleste international, FIFA World Cup winner and have coached some of the country’s biggest clubs?
People in Argentina need to understand that I’m got a really nice job to do in a country I’m very thankful to. There are those that’ll give me a warmer or a cooler reception, but I’ve always been very well respected because I was always very respectful myself. The clubs I coached always treated me well, but I can’t go out looking for an ovation when I leave the tunnel – I’ll be there to do my job. I’m very proud to have another opportunity to represent a country where I feel at home and where I’m very comfortable. Without being big-headed, I always say I feel 50-per-cent Chilean because I’ve lived half my life here.
Turning to the start of Brazil 2014 qualifying, how do you see the absence of A Seleção affecting the qualifying race?
It’s going to make life easier for the other teams. There are always two teams that are dead certs to qualify, Brazil and Argentina, and the rest have to fight it out for the remaining places. You should never rule out Uruguay, while Chile performed extraordinarily well in the last preliminary phase. The standard has really evened out. Bielsa proved that by making Chile the second team to qualify (for South Africa 2010), finishing very high up and without needing to rely on the maths at the end. So, as it’s always been, this is going to be a competitive and tough qualifying phase, but with Brazil not involved it gives everybody else that bit more to aim for.
You’ve always been known for your honesty and frank way of speaking. Do you think this can work against you on occasion?
My grandmother spent nearly 25 years of her life making sure I turned out honest. Being honest is not a virtue, it’s an obligation. I’ve been taught to say what I think and what I believe when the moment’s right. I don’t have prepared or preconceived speeches ready when I want to speak about an incident or a game, because I can’t put words into people’s mouths – they can see whether my team’s played well or not. But I do know that people understand that sometimes you have to lie a little bit if you want to gain more respect.