Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal is on the quest for yet another trophy. On Sunday, his Chilean national team will face Leo Messi and Argentina in the final of the special Copa America Centenario, a rematch from last year’s Copa America, which saw Chile triumph. And you can bet, whatever the final result, that Vidal — Bayern Munich’s ultimate warrior — will be front and center in the action. If the central reward of being a warrior is winning, Vidal is right there, plain as day, as one of the biggest winners among the current generation of footballers.
Collecting trophies has become a rather common event for the 29 year-old native of Santiago. After leaving Bayer Leverkusen for Italian giants Juventus in the summer of 2011 Vidal has, over the last five seasons, won four consecutive Serie A titles, a Bundesliga title in his first year with Bayern Munich, a Coppa Italia, a DFB Pokal and the 2015 Copa America championship with Chile last season. Oh, and he contributed to Juventus making the Champions League finals in 2015. where their dreams fell one game short as FC Barcelona won the CL by beating Juve 3-1. Additionally, Vidal won three Chilean domestic titles with Colo Colo at the start of his career and helped Leverkusen to be runnerups for the Bundesliga title for the only time since the 2001/2002 campaign in his final season there, a year in which he led the club with 11 assists.
Vidal thrives on competition, and in a professional career that began in 2006 the midfielder has played in the Champions League, the Europa League, Copa Sudamericana, three Copa America’s, two World Cup tournaments, the Coppa Italia, the DFB Pokal, Supercoppa Italiana and the DFL SuperCup in addition to his domestic league appearances. Being named Man of the Match in last year’s Copa America final against Argentina, the Juventus Man of the Year for the 2012/2013 season, being nominated to two Serie A Teams of the Year, and a Bundesliga Team of the Tournament while with Leverkusen are among his individual awards. But the team trophies are what really stand out, along with his top-level performances season after season.
The Full Maturation of an Ultimate Warrior
Vidal was in no way a late-bloomer. He debuted with Colo Colo in 2006 Chilean Premiere League Apertura as a nineteen year-old and earned a larger role in the squad in the 2006 Clausura championship tournament. Vidal also represented Chile in the 2007 U-20 South America Youth Championships, in which, despite being a central midfielder, he was second in that competition in goals scored, with six. Chile went on to the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where the South American squad finished third as Vidal scored twice, including a game-winner against Portugal.
He was still 20 when Bayer Leverkusen came calling after the U-20 World Cup. Convinced of his abilities, Rudi Voller made the trip to Chile to sign the midfielder for a 11 million euro transfer, a then-record fee paid for a Chilean player. In his second season with Die Werkself, Vidal helped the team reach the DFB Pokal finals for only the third time in club history, and featured in 144 matches in all competitions during his four-year stay.
During his four seasons with Juventus the Chilean earned the nickname Il Guerriero (the Warrior) due to his ability to help the team both in attack and defense. Winning four titles in Italy put more of the spotlight on Vidal and his complete arsenal of a warrior’s weapons he brings to the pitch each week. Capable of scoring goals and providing assists, he was also Juve’s main penalty kick taker because of his accuracy. Vidal continued to display the hard-nosed attitude he’d demonstrated at Leverkusen, but further developed his skills in intercepting passes, making quality tackles, being consistent in his marking and positioning while showing stamina and the ability to avoid injury while being mentored by Juve greats Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon.
His 37 million euro transfer to Bayern last summer attracted a good deal of attention, but early in the season Vidal was outshone by Bayern’s two other summer signings, youngsters Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman. Both displayed great pace along with a brilliant ability to deliver accurate and deadly crosses into the box. Some Bayern fans questioned whether the expenditure made to sign the Chilean veteran was money well spent, as his play was solid but paled next to the fireworks provided by the young duo.
But as the season wore on and Vidal became more comfortable in Pep Guardiola’s system, it was Vidal who carried Bayern down the homestretch of the season. Scoring key goals in addition to being a solid partner in central midfield with Xabi Alonso meant that Bayern were able to avoid any serious competition from a revived Borussia Dortmund. The Bavarians captured with relative ease a Bundesliga-record fourth consecutive championship while also beating the yellow-blacks in the Pokal final, capping off Pep Guardiola’s farewell Bayern season with an elusive double.
On a club absolutely loaded with talent, Vidal ended the season named in the Bundesliga top ten player rankings of both the Squawka.com and Whoscored.com, one of only three Bayern players (Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller) to make both top tens. In 30 league matches last season, Vidal scored four times and had five assists. He also completed 90% of his nearly 2000 passing attempts while winning 52% of almost 550 challenges he was involved in. The 29 year-old attempted 52 shots and created over 100 chances while only earning three yellow cards in his 2048 minutes on the pitch, quite a low total for someone who carries a reputation for menace.
And on Sunday, Bayern’s ultimate warrior, the player who best combines passion, great technique and a tough edge, will look to earn yet another trophy against an Argentina side honed sharp and hungry for an elusive trophy. Good luck to you, Arturo Vidal.
Photo courtesy of Randall Hauk