Still just 22 years of age, Gary Medel is already one of the most high-profile players in South American football, displaying the maturity of a veteran on the pitch, be it at centre-half, wing-back or holding midfielder. Opposing players know beforehand that they are in for a rough ride when they face the Chilean, whose drive and tireless running have earned him the nickname ‘El Pitbull’.
Named after the legendary English goal machine Gary Lineker, Medel grew up in a rough neighbourhood of Santiago, from which the youth teams of Universidad Catolica provided welcome respite. Medel made his professional debut for the club in the Chilean Primera Division in 2006, but it was not until he performed well for Chile at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada the following year that he became known to a wider audience.
By 2008 he was so firmly established in his club’s starting line-up that there was no real surprise when Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa selected him to play in a crucial FIFA World Cup™ qualifying match against Bolivia. It was a decision that the Argentinian would not regret, as he watched Medel score both goals for La Roja – the opener a stunning bicycle kick – in an impressive 2-0 victory in La Paz.
Medel has since become a key piece in Bielsa’s Chilean puzzle. This increased prominence brought him to the attention of reigning Argentinian champions Boca Juniors, who made a move for him in 2009. It did not take long for the versatile Chilean to achieve legendary status in certain parts of Buenos Aires, his two goals in the Superclasico derby in March of this year inspiring Boca to victory over hated rivals River Plate. A man of few words, Medel will be looking to continue to do his talking on the pitch at South Africa 2010.