Above: Owen Coyle, Marcelo Bielsa and Roberto Martinez.
To beat England at Wembley is something to savour. The look of joy on the faces of the Chilean players after beating England 2-0 on Friday was memorable.
Chile had beaten an experimental England team. Things would have been much harder against the first choice home country lineup. In contrast with England, Chile put forward a team that had played together throughout the demanding South American qualifiers for the World Cup. Moreover having a good prior record against England they were not going to be intimidated.
The manner of Chile’s victory was something Roberto Martinez would have approved of.
In the first half they threw caution to the wind and attacked England. The forwards Jean Beausejour, Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez were a constant danger and the Latics player got into a good scoring position in the 31st minute. He could not put it away. But then again, if Beausejour were able to score from positions like that on a regular basis would he still be at Wigan?
In the second half Chile had to defend against England pressure and they were unable to keep up the football of the first half. However, they maintained their composure, passing the ball out of defence, despite having ten England players almost camped inside their half.
It is something that Owen Coyle’s current defensive quartet could not even dream about.
Chile’s attacking style derives from the time Marcelo Bielsa was coach. Current incumbent Jorge Sampaoli recognizes Bielsa’s influence saying that “Through his excellence he justifies an attacking style that I have always identified with, and I subscribe to his philosophy and ideas.” .
Chile typically played a high defensive line, meaning their defenders were pushed into risky last-ditch tackles when their forward pressing was by-passed.
Bielsa clearly influenced Sampaoli, but probably also Martinez and his preferred style of play .
I first saw a Bielsa team twenty years ago when I was living in Cali, Colombia. Bielsa’s Newells Old Boys played at the atmospheric Pascual Guerrero Stadium in Cali in the semi final of the Copa Libertadores. They knocked out local club America – who had a great record in the Copa – on penalties . Newells were to be defeated by Sao Paolo in the final, also on penalties. The football of that Newells of Cordoba team at the time was something different.
Back in Colombia a decade later, I was to see Bielsa’s Argentina team draw 1-1 with Colombia in a World Cup qualifying match in Barranquilla. Argentina played an exciting formation with three central defenders and two wing backs. Captain Roberto Ayala was superb in the Gary Caldwell role in the centre of defence and Hernan Crespo got their goal. Bielsa was not to achieve World Cup success with Argentina despite a record of W42 D16 L10 during his tenure.
Chile are an exciting team to watch, almost a throwback to the times when teams attacked with abandon. Last year Barcelona paid dearly against Bayern Munich for their lack of height in the centre of defence. But Chile played 5’8” Cardiff midfielder Gary Medel in a three man defence against an England team who are always going to be dangerous from set pieces.
Sampaoli has bravely continued with the tactical approach put in place by Bielsa from 2007-2011. The team seems to play without fear, characterised by high pressing and 3-3-1-3. Even when under intense pressure they continue to play with composure and belief. Critics would say that the approach is naïve, but it has produced the best results Chile have ever had.
In Bielsa’s early days at Chile they were able to get a point away to Uruguay at Montevideo and also to beat Argentina. Both were firsts for Chile. But then there was the flip side – heaviest-ever home defeats in qualifiers, 3-0 against both Paraguay and Brazil.
If Bielsa achieved anything with Chile then it was giving them an “identity”. In order to play in such a way every player needed to buy in to the system. Players coming in would know exactly what was expected of them and would play with enthusiasm.
At Wigan, Martinez probably aspired to what Chile do, but never quite had the players to do it. But there are clear parallels.
Latics certainly had those ups and downs, with fantastic wins over the elite clubs that dominate English football, but also humiliating eight or nine goal defeats.
But then again, like Chile under Bielsa or Sampaoli, there was certainly “identity”.
Chile will probably get undone in the World Cup finals through set pieces. For the moment they are fascinating to watch, playing with confidence and with a strong footballing philosophy.
Since Martinez left Wigan the style of football has nose-dived. There is a distinct lack of identity about the way this current Latics team plays.
It remains to be seen whether Owen Coyle can provide the results to go along with his more ‘direct’ approach of football.
In the meantime we continue to look for an ‘identity’ at Wigan.
But then again lovers of good football will hope it does not resemble an identity such as those developed by Sam Allardyce at Bolton and Tony Pulis at Stoke.
Current Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino and current Southampton manager Mauricio Pocchetino played in Bielsa’s Libertadores Cup Final team for Newells. As coaches both follow the example of Bielsa
– an attacking approach, with high pressing.