Voted South American Player of the Year in 2006, Matias Fernandez is a cornerstone of the Chile national team, playing a pivotal role in the tactical approach favoured by coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Enormously talented with the ball at his feet, ‘Matigol’ was born to Chilean parents in the Argentinian city of Buenos Aires, where he spent the first four years of his life, before the family returned to their homeland. He first began knocking a ball around in the streets of La Calera, and turned professional at Santiago-based Colo Colo at the age of 17.
It is the former coach of Los Albos, Claudio Borghi, who is often credited with providing the ideal environment for Fernandez’s skills to blossom. By aligning him alongside future Chile stars such as Jorge Valdivia, Arturo Vidal, Humberto Suazo and Alexis Sanchez, Borghi created an exciting, free-flowing team that won the Apertura and Clausura Championships in 2006 and reached the final of the Copa Sudamericana that same year.
Fernandez’s abilities were worthy of a greater stage, which would present itself in the form of a transfer to La Liga’s Villarreal the following season. In Spain, the Chilean playmaker was burdened by heightened expectations and was unable to reproduce the same form that had initially prompted the move. After three inconsistent seasons at El Madrigal, and in desperate need of a change of scenery, Fernandez signed for current club Sporting Lisbon in 2009, where he has since been able to reproduce the type of play that made him a star back in Chile.
A quiet, low-profile footballer, he normally prefers to let his feet do the talking, as he did at the FIFA World Youth Championship in 2005, where Chile managed to qualify for the last 16. With the senior side, he is now regarded as a key player, thanks to his crucial goals and outstanding all-round performances, such as in the landmark away victories over Peru and Paraguay during the qualifying phase for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. These displays virtually guaranteed that he would continue to fill the attacking midfield slot while Bielsa remains in charge, despite strong competition from Valdivia.
Fernandez’s consistency for his country is remarkable. His game seems to click into place when he pulls on the famous red shirt, whether it be in the attacking third or when tracking back, an additional duty that he is not usually asked to perform at club level.
His closest compatriots on the field of play are Sanchez and Suazo, with whom he has developed a near-telepathic understanding. “Sometimes we don’t even look – each of us instinctively knows where the others will be on the pitch,” says Fernandez of his team-mates.