Boasting a strong personality, a fierce will-to-win and talent aplenty, Chile international Arturo Vidal has been making a splash ever since bursting out of Colo Colo’s youth ranks in 2005 at the age of 18. The versatile midfield man continued to enhance his reputation still further afield two years later, as a key member of the Chilean squad that achieved a best-ever third-place finish at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007.
From there the upward progression continued for this imposing and steely performer, who earned a move to German outfit Bayer Leverkusen, established himself in his country’s senior side and played an influential role in a La Roja squad that qualified for their first FIFA World Cup™ since France 1998. His subsequent displays at South Africa 2010 and during the 2010/11 season in Germany, where he was voted into the Bundesliga’s top XI, led to a prestigious switch to Italian giants Juventus.
Having helped his new club claim the Scudetto unbeaten in his very first campaign, as well as being voted into Serie A’s best XI, Vidal’s next main aim on the international front is to ensure Chile reach Brazil 2014. On all this, as well as the current state of Chilean football and his own career ambitions, Vidal spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Would you agree that you’re part of the best generation of Chilean players of all time?
Arturo Vidal: Yes! There have been very good players that have emerged at various times in the past, but there have never been so many at the same time. There are a number of us that are doing well both in Europe’s major leagues and in the national team, which is something new for Chilean football. It makes me proud to be part of this process.
Do you think this group of Chile players has had the recognition it deserves?
(After a long pause) In Santiago people say that it’s been a long time since a Chile team has got as good results as we’ve had over the last few years. We’re just trying to savour it all, while also doing our country as proud as we possibly can.
After a 12-year absence from the FIFA World Cup, Chile reached the Round of 16 at South Africa 2010, only to fall below expectations at the 2011 Copa America. What’s the next objective?
To qualify for the next World Cup of course. And once that’s secure we ought to aim really big, by which I mean going for the title. South Africa was the first time [at a World Cup] for us all, and what an experience it was. But when it comes to Brazil, we should approach it with a different mindset.
You sound convinced that Chile will qualify for the finals in 2014…
I’m convinced that we have a good enough team to do that. We can’t dwell on the very painful [3-1] defeat against Colombia [in Santiago]. We need to stand back and take stock of the whole view. And that view would be positive. We should not forget we were leading the standings in these qualifiers. The squad’s goal is to get back into the top three and stay there to the end. This group of players are mature enough and have been proving just that.
That said, there have once again been disciplinary problems in the camp. Is that the main issue that this group of players have yet to resolve?
(Thinks carefully) It’s a subject that’s been spoken about a lot. Football gives you so much and not everybody can handle it. You need to grow up as a person and, because of the position you’re in, sometimes you have a duty to set an example. But that’s not an easy task because to do that you need certain qualities that only come with time.
Dealings with the domestic press haven’t been easy either, have they?
A number of factors have had an impact on that. On the one hand, the Chilean media are always looking for details on what goes on away from the pitch. And on the other, Chilean players tend to be quite shy, which makes them even more nervous about speaking [to the media] and instead prefer to shut themselves off to avoid getting into trouble.
Yet you seem to be quite a different sort of character. Why do you think that is?
Yes, that’s right. It’s something to do with your background, because at first all you think about is being successful and only later do you start to grow up as a person. Living in Germany and now Italy has helped me become more mature, to think things through better and express myself more appropriately.
You also seem to be a calmer performer out on the pitch. So, looking back over your career, do you think your fiery temperament has been more of a help than a hindrance?
A help! Without that temperament I don’t know if I’d have been capable of being successful outside of Chile. If you want to perform in leagues like the Bundesliga or Serie A you have to have something that sets you apart, and in my case part of what makes me different is my temperament.
Has it been hard to keep your temper under control?
Maybe early on, when I was playing for Colo Colo. That was the period when I put most work into that aspect of my game, particularly by watching videos of my matches. But once I moved abroad I’d already calmed down.
Back then with Colo Colo you had current Chile boss Claudio Borghi as your coach. Has his coaching style changed much since he moved from club to international football?
Claudio is still the same as he always was. He’s someone who’s very approachable and who gives us a lot of freedom – in the best sense of the word! There aren’t many coaches who have such a way with their players, which proves to you what kind of player he was on and off the pitch. His approach brings us closer together.
You’ve been asked to play in a number of different positions for Chile: in central midfield, out wide, just behind the forwards and even as a libero. Where do you feel most at home?
It’s no secret that my position is a central midfielder with license to go forward. That’s where I’ve played my whole life and where I perform best. I like to be able to see the whole panorama, get plenty of the ball and be part of the transition between defence and attack. But, let me stress that I don’t have a problem with changing position to help out my national team or club side! And I do my best to try and adapt as quickly as possible.
Do you think you’re in the best period of your career?
I think so. Things went well for me in Germany but I’m now playing for one of the world’s most historic clubs, we just won the title unbeaten and I’m fulfilling both my own expectations and those of the people who brought me here. In terms of the affection I’m held in, I’m experiencing something similar to what I went through in Chile, as the fans here are always showing me their appreciation. Even so, there’s always room to keep improving.
Are you surprised by how well Juventus are doing?
I was aware when I joined that the team hadn’t been getting good results, but I also knew I was signing for a European giant. When I agreed the move I did so thinking we could turn things around and fight for the championship, and that’s how it turned out. It didn’t take us long to realise that we were capable of lasting the distance, though I do admit I was surprised we finished unbeaten. The Italian league is very difficult.
Do you think the team’s capable of defending their title or will the focus be on winning the UEFA Champions League?
I think that the players we’ve brought in make us stronger than we were last season, so we’re capable of defending the title and having a good Champions League campaign. Let me correct myself, at a club like Juventus you have to aim to win every competition!
Would you fancy trying your luck in England or Spain in the future?
I’ve not thought about it. I repeat that I’ve very happy here and if I had to spend the rest of my career here I’d do so gladly.
And finally, does football make you happy? Are you still in love with the game?
Of course I am! And I hope to stay in love with football for the rest of my life. Not only is it what I do best, it’s also something that brings me happiness every day.