Alexis Sánchez; from the mines in Chile to being the star in London

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His pants are always up his thighs, his hair always looks perfect, but this doesn’t stops him from working very hard for his team. This is Alexis ‘Tocopillano’ Sánchez in a nutshell. The Chilean star was signed last summer by Arsenal-coach Arsenè Wenger and he has lived up to all the expectations in London. He scores, he assists, he entertains the fans in the Emirates, but most of all he shows so much energy in a match. Minute 1 or minute 90, it doesn’t matter for this Alexis. He keeps on going for his team, if it’s a friendly or a final, you won’t see the difference for Sánchez. The number 17 from Arsenal took a long and tough road to the top, but he never forgets where he came from, and this is projected in his game.

He was born in Tocapilla, a small mining town in Chile. That’s why people call him Tocopillano, which can be translated as citizen of Tocapilla. Alexis grew up without a father and was raised by his mother, who had to work as a cleaner at her son’s school. Alexis showed his football potential at a young age, but he had to go school and support his mother financially at the same time. He washed cars and did small jobs in the mines to help his mother pay the bills. His talent kept growing and showing itself and he realized after a while that football offered him an opportunity, which could help his mother and the citizens of Tocapilla.

If I had not become a football player I would probably have ended up working in the mine, or doing something else, something tough, but I would have done something. I wanted to triumph as a footballer to help the family and the people of Tocopilla.” – Alexis Sánchez himself

Sánchez started playing for local club Cobreloa and when he was 16 years he made his debut for the club. After one impressing season for Cobreloa he got noticed by Serie-A club Udinese and they signed him, but loaned him immediately to Chilean big club Colo-Colo. Alexis did well in his country of origin, but he was deemed not yet ready for the Serie-A. He was sent on loan one more time, this time to River Plate, a big club in Argentina. Alexis played together with Radamel Falcao under current Atlético Madrid-coach Diego Simeone. The 18-year old played fantastic and was finally ready for a European top league. Udinese called him back to Italy and he got the chance to prove himself. In Udine he won the hearts from the fans and this helped him to grew to the great player he is nowadays. He played together with compatriot Mauricio Isla and formed a deadly coupe with Antonio Di Natale. He showed himself as a player who likes to run at defenders and dazzle them with great skills. The Chilean youngster worked hard, scored a lot and always entertained the fans in Udine. That’s why they gave him the nickname ‘El Niño Maravilla’ (Boy Wonder). He qualified for the Champions League with Udinese and scored or assisted 26 goals for Udinese in two years.

Due to those great two years in Italy, Marcelo ‘El Loco’ Bielsa, who was the coach then, gave him the chance to play for the national team of Chile. Tocopillano took that chance gratefully; under the wings of Bielsa he grew to being the best player in Chile and in 2010 he was picked for the World Cup in South-Africa. This WC would ensure that the general public would notice Alexis Sánchez. In South-Africa he dazzled defenders with his runs, he gave assists, scored goals, but also showed his enormous work ethic. Barcelona watched him multiple times and decided to pay no less than €35 million for Alexis Sánchez.

In Barcelona he would play with stars like Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernández. It was a dream coming true and he was very motivated to start playing for the Catalan club. He however was struggling in his first two years at the club. The Chilean star arrived when Barcelona’s domination in football started decreasing. Sánchez needed to fulfill a role in the tiki-taka game which didn’t fit him. He worked hard as always and tried to function in small spaces, but he lacked often and especially in the beginning it seemed like Sánchez wasn’t good enough for the absolute top level. He won the League in his second season, but his best season for FC Barcelona was his last. In that particular season he scored goals against rivals Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. Coach Tata Martino however often benched him in the big games and this destroyed Alexis’ confidence.

Rumors were told that he would leave Spain for the Premier League and Barcelona said that they wouldn’t sell the Chilean, unless they received an astronomical bid for him. After a successful World Cup in Brazil with Chile, Arsenal was the club who wanted Sánchez the most. The French manager Arsène Wenger had to sign Alexis and paid €45 million for him. Wenger was very satisfied with this transfer and immediately showed his confidence in Sánchez. This was what Alexis needed, a new impulse. A place where he could be himself and where he doesn’t need to fulfill a specific role like in the Catalan capital.

“Alexis will add power, creativity and much quality to our squad and we are all looking forward to him joining up with us in a few weeks. He has consistently produced top-quality performances at the highest level for a number of seasons now and we are all excited to see him integrate into the Arsenal squad. I’m sure all Arsenal supporters will join me in welcoming Alexis to our club.” 

None of these words told were lied. Sánchez is presenting himself as one of the best players in the Premier League and the world. Wenger gives him the freedom that he needs. El Niño Maravilla has a free role and can ask for the ball where he wants, and he likes to do this too. He scores and assists almost every match and dribbles defenders for fun, he runs past them as if they are pawns. Almost every week he saves and drags his team trough matches, he runs from minute 1 to minute 90 (including extra time) after his opponent to drive them crazy. When he loses the ball, he will keep on running after the defender until he has captured the ball back. And often when he does that, he goes on to do something decisive for his squad. He already scored eighteen goals for Arsenal and it is fair to expect that this amount will highly increase.

Alexis bonds well with players like Santi Cazorla, Oxlade Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey, and then players like Mesut Özil, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere still have to return fully fit. Arsenal plays football in a way that is comparable with FC Barcelona’s playing style. Both teams like to have the ball, to attack a lot, but Arsenal still plays more direct and this benefits Alexis. He likes to combine with the mentioned players and when a player makes a run forward, he has the ability to find that player with a perfect pass.

In multiple games this season Alexis showed his tactical worth for Arsenal. His favorite position is obvious one of the wings, but he can also proof his worth as striker. In absence of strikers Giroud and Welbeck, Alexis played well as a number nine. He is physically very strong, but he also has enormous pace and can finish very clinically. Next to all that he always tracks back and thanks to this, it sometimes even seems as if Arsenal have twelve players on the pitch instead of eleven. The Chilean however still have to show his worth in big games for Arsenal, he often works hard and plays okay, but he isn’t decisive enough. He did score goals against Manchester City in the Community Shield final and against Dortmund in the Champions League, but failed to score against clubs like Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

Watch a beautiful Alexis’ highlights video below:

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