Jorge Sampaoli’s Exit Leaves Chile in the Cold
The pace of change in the modern world is remarkable. Six months can change the complexion of an entire country and indeed a footballing association. Six months ago Jorge Sampaoli steered Chile to a famous Copa America win on home soil. Now, six months on, Sampaoli and La Roja have parted ways. A messy break up.
Politics and football so rarely mix and there is good reason for it. Where football association campaign trails do not receive much air time in Europe, especially Britain, South American presidential elections are fiercely fought contests. They split opinions, dismantle teams (in the case of Venezuela) and leave casualties. The Chileans have newly elected Arturo Salah as their president – a move which ruffled the feathers of many within the association, Sampaoli included. The coach had made it clear before the impending arrival of Salah that his time as boss of Chile may be up sooner rather than later.
The triumph in the Copa America only succeeded in accelerating this standpoint, as the Argentinian exceeded the triumphs of his mentor Marcelo Biesla by securing silverware. Bielsa is a fantastic coach, and so many modern day managers base their blueprint on his technical game, but he has never won a major trophy. Sampaoli can also distinguish himself from his mentor because there is an obvious sense of pragmatism within him. A sense that he must change tactics to accommodate for his opposition, take the final against Argentina as a prime example. His tweaks to the system stopped Lionel Messi running amok. However, the tactical game of both managers have remarkable similarities; they attack relentlessly, press in the opposition half of the pitch with swashbuckling ambition and a real sense of fearlessness. The style in which Chile won the Copa America is what really thrust Sampaoli into the limelight, proving to the European clubs that he has what it takes.
Sampaoli, you could say, has let the success go to his head. His desire to leave Chile became much clearer in the recent past, meeting with Salah before taking to the podium as a candidate for coach of the year. And the deal to break his contract has only left the 55 year old out of pocket – forgoing any bonus he was due to receive for the Copa America triumph and seeing him paying a fee to the Chilean FA (ANFP). Sampaoli said he “no longer felt respected” by the federation after details of his contract appeared in a local paper, the same one that reported a €6m buy out figure was required to trigger a release clause.
Chile looked destined to create an empire under Sampaoli, who had modified the team to become a diverse, fluid unit capable of stripping the best of teams to the bones. Their three key pillars of Sanchez, Vidal and Bravo became more important than ever, but crucially fringe players such as Eduardo Vargas, Jorge Valdivia and Charles Aranguiz transformed into giants propelling them to victory. Sampaoli’s replacement now walks into a 14-round qualifying campaign for the Russia World Cup in 2018. The current squad is depleted with suspensions looming over their heads – in addition to that, this generation of players would have played non-stop for the past 5 years (2014 World Cup, Copa America, Confederations Cup, Copa America Centenary). Many of them will be 30+ years old by 2018, the majority before the next Copa American in 2016. Sampoali’s successor walks into a delicate situation.
It appears that Sampaoli’s sudden decision to depart has left Chile in limbo, an ageing squad who needed to a strong hand to take them through a delicate period has gone. Sampaoli may have jumped ship before it sank.