If there is one unquestionable first choice in the current Chile line-up, Alexis Sanchez is that player. A tremendous dribbler, ‘El Niño Maravilla’ (‘the Boy Wonder’) is also equipped with pace, poise and energy - attributes that are set to make the Udinese forward one of the most talked-about stars at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Quiet and discreet off the pitch, Sanchez’s roots lie in Tocopilla, a coastal town in northern Chile. His footballing path began at Cobreloa in 2004, where he made his debut as a 16-year-old, quickly impressing onlookers with mature performances that belied his years. His excellent form was not just confined to the domestic arena, as exemplified by his good Copa Libertadores campaign in 2005.
Sanchez’s spectacular progress caught the eye of the coaching staff at Colo Colo, who promptly signed him up in 2006. Three trophies later, he moved on to River Plate in Argentina, where supporters of Los Millonarios saw flashes of the great Marcelo Salas in the precocious youngster. After adding another medal to his collection in Buenos Aires in 2008, he packed his bags for Udinese in Serie A, the Italian club having won a signing race that included Werder Bremen, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Villarreal.
Sanchez struggled in Serie A at the start, but once he adjusted to his team’s style of play, and vice versa, his fancy footwork and seemingly bottomless bag of tricks made him a firm favourite with the home fans. “I’ve always liked playing that way; coming up with the unexpected. I love entertaining the fans,” he explained in a rare interview.
Now 21, Sanchez has been a regular for Chile at various age levels, and achieved notable success at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, where he helped his country secure third place. The Chilean dressing room back then contained many of Sanchez’s current team-mates in the senior national team, such as Cristopher Toselli, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, Carlos Carmona and Hans Martinez, which suggests that the ‘Golden Generation’ label often associated with the U-20 side was not far off the mark.
It goes without saying that Sanchez was instrumental in La Roja’s triumphant FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, performing brilliantly home and away. Among the many highlights were his displays in the victories over Peru and Paraguay, as well as the show he put on versus Bolivia in Santiago, scoring two goals in a 4-0 win. “Football just has one rule: never look back, always look forward,” is a mantra he is fond of repeating. This law may be difficult for some of his opponents to obey in South Africa, once Sanchez has skipped past them...