Juan Antonio Pizzi has always kept a low profile, a trait that has not changed since he took charge of the Chile national team. He has done so even despite some initial doubts surrounding his appointment, when he could easily have boasted that La Roja not only won the Copa America Centenario just six months after his arrival, but that today they are in the automatic qualifying spots for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ in a tough South American campaign.
An additional argument in Pizzi's favour is that he has enjoyed success with a team that had just won its first ever Copa America in 2015, with a squad packed with stars of the calibre of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Bravo and Gary Medel. Pizzi has managed to keep his charges motivated and on the right track, even after infusing his own personal touch in the team's play. That is no easy task in a world where egos rule.
So how has he done it? "You always need the players to be willing to allow themselves to be guided," the 48-year-old Argentinian said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "In that sense I've been lucky to have a group of players who have been together for a while, who know what to do and how to handle situations. They cooperate a lot in allowing themselves to be led by a coach."
Pizzi is well aware of the achievements he and his coaching staff have had, but sees no need to highlight them: "We work with a great deal of common sense, transparency and respect. And players, regardless of their quality, level or status at their clubs, value that and respond in the same way. That's what we ask of them whenever we get together, be it at training, in meetings or in competitions that last a little bit longer."
Hopes and expectations
All of that will be put to the test at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017, a competition Chile will be gracing for the first time. The South American champions have been drawn in Group B alongside Australia, Cameroon and reigning world champions Germany.
Pizzi says expectations are high among Chile fans, primarily because "it's something new," while also believing "the experience will be like a party for them". Perhaps inevitably, it has also generated high expectations among the players and the coach himself. "It's because we'll be playing absolutely top-quality teams," he explained.
The prospect of guiding Chile to a maiden triumph at a FIFA competition is not something that concerns Pizzi, nor will he use it to inspire his players. "You don't need to go over the top in motivating your players at events like this because it's something that comes naturally with participating at the tournament," he said.
Pizzi is equally concise and forthright when it comes to the team's objective in Russia: "We play to win. We know it'll be difficult but we always arrive with the hope and confidence to be able to beat our opponents."
National team legacy
Pizzi will prepare his team in line with that aim, although for now he is focused on the two upcoming World Cup qualifying matches in March. Chile, currently in fourth place, will travel to face an Argentina side hot on their heels in the standings, before a home game against Venezuela, who are on the verge of elimination.
"Even though we're in an automatic qualification spot right now, I think we're going to be fighting for that place right until the very end of the campaign, just like all the other teams in the same situation," Pizzi said. "That's all we're concentrating on. Afterwards we'll have time to plan for the Confederations Cup properly.
"Time will tell if our efforts were enough for both - participating at this competition and then qualifying for the World Cup," he continued.
Time is precisely what will allow Pizzi to determine what his legacy will be with Chile, and where he stands in comparison to influential predecessors such as Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli.
True to character, Pizzi does not give much importance to that notion: "I think what went before always serves as a resource for the coach who arrives next. Marcelo, [Claudio] Borghi and Sampaoli all contributed things to the team, which, logically is now under my charge, and I profit from using those things," he said.
"I hope that whoever is coach in the future does the same with my work," Pizzi added. "And that he continues to accumulate everything we coaches have done, because I think it's all for the benefit of Chilean football. That's the only thing that interests us as coaches."