When Arturo Erasmo Vidal Pardo switched to Bundesliga outfit
Bayer Leverkusen, he became Chile's most expensive footballing
export - a reported $11 million changing hands to take him to the
German Rhineland in summer 2007. Vidal is still only 20, but Bayer
coach Michael Skibbe swiftly promoted him to the first team, where
he has already become a BayArena crowd favourite.
Born in the humble surroundings of Santiago suburb San Joaquin, the defender shot to prominence with one of the country's leading sides, Colo Colo, claiming Chilean championship honours in his first season at the club. Vidal was a regular over the next two seasons with Los Albos, helping the serial champions to two more domestic titles.
Inevitably, Europe's top clubs began to show an interest in the youngster. Bayer Leverkusen Director of Sport Rudi Voller personally undertook the long trip to Chile, determined to persuade the gifted youth that his immediate future lay with the 2002 UEFA Champions League finalists. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Arturo Vidal acknowledged that the former striker's visit tipped the scales in Bayer's favour: "I chose Leverkusen after Rudi Voller came to Chile in the spring of 2007," he said.
1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ winner Voeller has never regretted his trek to South America, singing Vidal's praises to respected German football weekly Kicker last summer. " ." After a few initial problems, traceable to the after-effects of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, where Vidal and his Chile team-mates finished third, the youngster has more than lived up to Voller's hopes.
The man with the squad No23 has now scored one goal in 19 Bundesliga appearances, and is poised for a ninth UEFA Cup outing. The Chilean has been out of Skibbe's starting line-up of late, but did his cause no harm with a dynamic turn as a second-half substitute in Bayer's 2-0 defeat of Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend. The 20-year-old could well feature from the start for Leverkusen on Thursday.
On the eve of the UEFA Cup quarter-final first leg, the starlet spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his new club, his Canada 2007 experience, and his targets with Chile's senior side.
FIFA.com: Arturo, approximately six months have passed since you first set foot on German soil. What were your thoughts at that time?
Arturo Vidal: It's a new chapter in my life and a better standard of football.
What did you know about Bayer Leverkusen before switching to the Bundesliga?
I'd obviously heard of Rudi Voller. I knew they'd played in the Champions League, that they finished runners-up three times in 2002 - in the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League, and I knew of a few former players, like Michael Ballack, Lucio and Diego Placente.
Do you think your starring role at the FIFA U-20 World Cup was a significant factor in your transfer to Germany?
No. There were enquiries well before that, and everything was sorted out before the U-20 World Cup.
What are your memories of the tournament in Canada?
The team and I really enjoyed ourselves, despite our semi-final defeat to a very powerful Argentina side. Alongside the medals I won at Colo Colo in Chile, the tournament is the highlight of my sporting career to date.
The FIFA U-20 World Cup is in the past now, and your current focus is on Bayer Leverkusen. You're lying fourth in the Bundesliga at the moment: what are the reasons behind the successful showing this term?
We have a number of talented youngsters, combined with a handful of older, extremely experienced players. It's a good blend, and we're like one big happy family. It's a lot of fun!
You now face FC Zenit in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. What are the team's goals for the remainder of the campaign?
Hopefully we'll win the UEFA Cup or the league, or at least qualify for the Champions League. We haven't set ourselves any definite targets. We'll battle away and see what happens.
How would you rate your own performances in recent months?
I'm very satisfied, I've played lots of games, and the lads have made me feel exceptionally welcome.
You played top flight football back home with Colo Colo. What are the biggest differences between the first division in Chile and the German Bundesliga?
German football is faster and physically harder than Chile. Tactics also play a bigger role here.
Turning to your national team, Chile are seventh in the South American standings after four rounds in qualifying for South Africa 2010. How far can LaRoja go?
We're a young team with bags of talent, and I honestly believe we'll qualify. In our most recent game against Paraguay [a 3-0 defeat], we were a little unlucky, and we were missing a few players too.
So who do you think will qualify for the 2010 world finals from South America?
Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay, with Uruguay in fifth.