Our countdown of the league’s best players of this past campaign continues. After a rather controversial choice at number 5 we get into a player whose accomplishments are undeniable to even his biggest detractors.
You can find the other parts of this countdown here.
4. Arturo Vidal
Arturo Vidal – the most influential player and on field leader for the league’s runners up, Bayer Leverkusen. That is a moniker more appropriate than anything else considering not only the level of performance this season but the extent of the player’s influence on the team and its’ impressive campaign. Vidal’s star has been rising since his move to Germany a couple of years back but it was this season that he rose to unprecedented heights and comfortably elevated himself as one of the league’s elite players. So impressive was Vidal that Germany’s big gun, Bayern Munich, are now adamant in their pursuit of the Chilean midfielder and Leverkusen are doing everything to hold on to their crown jewel.
To see the stark improvement one just needs to look at the statistics. Last season Vidal scored 1 goal and assisted 2, accumulating 14 yellow cards. His predilection to bookings and his sometimes uncontrollable temperament was always one of his biggest criticisms and a part of his game that needed desperate polishing. As a holding player, he was also never really a great goal threat and in the three years with Leverkusen prior to this season he managed only a combined 5 goals in the league. This season Vidal scored an incredible 10 goals and created another 11 for his team in the league. On top of that, he has matured beyond everyone’s expectations and conceded only 5 yellow cards. It was a remarkable turnaround and a giant step in his development as a player.
Vidal played a crucial role for Leverkusen in more than one way. Far from being the sturdiest of defenses, Leverkusen’s primary weakness this past season was their backline. Hampered by injuries as well as a constant rotation of players, it always threatened to derail whatever progress the team made on the other end of the pitch. The combative Vidal was instrumental in shoring up their shaky defense and providing not only defensive cover when it was needed from midfield but also actually filling in when the situation called for it. And as potent as their attack was, there was a distinct lack of consistency from all their attacking players. Once again, Vidal was crucial in filling in the numbers when Leverkusen’s offense came short. Simply put, Vidal was the link between a frail defense and a somewhat disappointing forward-line. It comes as no surprise to note that Vidal was the only Leverkusen player to chalk up double figures this season, in both goals and assists.
What really makes Vidal a special player is his mentality and attitude on the pitch. At the age of 24, he has come a long way from being a hotheaded young Chilean with disciplinary issues to a real inspirational leader figure on this team. Leverkusen supporters have watched Vidal grow before their eyes and that was evident on the field this season where he garnered much praise as the heart and engine of their midfield. His no-nonsense attitude, effective communication with his teammates and never-ending work ethic made him an ideal team player. Vidal played the holding midfield role to perfection but to define him strictly along those lines is to marginalize a truly universal player.
Vidal was consistency epitomized and was one of the few players that carried over their World Cup form without showing any signs of fatigue. He had already scored 8 goals and created another 6 by the winter break. And although a lot of those goals were from the penalty spot, he successfully converted them in a season that included the worst penalty conversion percentage in years, not only in Germany but across Europe. The Chilean’s undying desire for success kept Leverkusen going in the second half of the season, the period in the Bundesliga calendar that Leverkusen have become notorious for underperforming in.
That internal drive to win no doubt comes from his hard upbringing and journey as a player. Raised in the streets of San Joaquin in Chile, Vidal was always a bit rough around the edges and was labeled with the “bad boy” tag early on. On first glance he would appear the type of player whose only function is to destroy the opposition’s creativity but that perception glossed over a lot of his finer qualities, qualities that took until this year to really come to the forefront and be recognized. He continued to fulfill the role of enforcer this season, doing the necessary dirty work when needed, but he also displayed elegant traces of a playmaker. In a sense, Vidal was reborn this season, from the dark depths of a “dirty player” to the glitzy heights of a complete Midfield Maestro.
Perhaps nothing sums up the player better than this very quote from the man himself,
“My goal is always to ‘take responsibility’ and play an important role for the team.”