Something’s rotten in Chilean soccer. After crashing out of CONMEBOL qualifying thanks to a 3-0 defeat away at Brazil, as well as some controversial results elsewhere in the region, reports have come out this week that several La Roja players were difficult to work with, and that others showed up to training either drunk or hungover in the lead-up to the key qualifying matches.
Chile’s national team appears to have reached as far as possible with this current golden generation of players. Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, Claudio Bravo, and other key players for La Roja are reaching the back halves of their careers, and a new generation of players hasn’t set the world on fire around them. As if the process of a national team rebuild wasn’t daunting enough, however, the past week has seen some disturbing comments leak out from Chile-adjacent figures, and given the past histories of some involved, it appears that it wasn’t just on-the-field issues.
First off, Bravo’s wife, Carla Prado, broke the seal on allegations, when she said that players had shown up for training hungover before Chile’s match against Brazil, due to hard partying the night before. While that seemed to point more at blaming others but her husband (who wasn’t particularly at fault for the three goals Brazil scored on Tuesday), further corroborating reports are casting doubts on the professionalism of some Chilean players. Prado’s mother, Pilar Lizana, also had harsh words for the Chilean side, specifically Vidal, who she accused of paying casino security to delete security footage of a fight that made news earlier this summer, one that Vidal denied being a part of.
Most damning of all, a previously off-the-record conversation from 2015 with then-Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli seems to point at this being a trend, more than a momentary lapse. In a conversation with journalists, the current Argentina coach said that several players treated their international breaks as vacations from the rigor of club play; specifically, he says that players like Mauricio Pinilla and Medel partied hard during the breaks–although he specifies that Medel no longer drinks–and that Sánchez was detached from the team community, choosing instead to eat alone and without talking to anyone.
Perhaps most emblematic of the Chilean side’s problems, however, are the comments about Vidal: “A case for a specialized doctor. He likes to drink and can’t control himself,” said Sampaoli, before providing one worrying example. “On a plane back from Lima, he asked me if he could open a beer he had bought at the Airport, I told him not to. Instead, he opened a whisky with the help of our bus driver and some other players. I had to fire the driver, even if I knew Vidal was responsible.”
Unfortunately, this aligns with Vidal’s history as a party boy and problem child, one that culminated in a 2015 drunk driving incident, where the star midfielder was arrested for driving his Ferrari while intoxicated in Santiago, just days before a Copa America group stage match. Of course, Vidal was not playing in Tuesday’s game against Brazil, having previously picked up a suspension, but if one of the main players on a team really is having drinking problems and it affects his play, then it stands to reason that the lax attitude will filter down to other players.
That being said, despite Vidal’s waffling on whether he’ll retire from La Roja as previously stated, this is a chance for Chile to start anew. Qualifiers coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, who led Chile to the second of their back-to-back Copa Americas in 2016, has already resigned, and there is some young talent on the side that could be given a shot in friendlies leading up to the 2019 Copa America. Players like Nicolás Castillo, Felipe Mora, and Brayan Cortés could all feature then, and while they may not be as talented as this golden generation, perhaps with a more collective sense of purpose after missing out on a World Cup spot that was up for grabs will help Chile get back on track.