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Jorge Valdívia, Chile’s secret weapon and loose cannon against Brazil

Jorge Valdívia, Chile’s secret weapon and loose cannon against Brazil

Posted by Dubraswka Aguilar on June 26, 2014

Fans at Palmeiras idolize their Chilean no. 10 as fervently as those of rival Brazilian clubs detest the playmaker and playboy known as “El Mago.” But Jorge Valdívia will test the devotion of even his most loyal of fans at “Verdão” this Saturday, with the 30-year-old attacking midfielder hoping to play a pivotal role in dumping Brazil out of its own world cup.

Valdívia is one of several players in “La Roja” to have first hand experience of Brasileiro Série A football, though he will no doubt cast more light on its opponent than any other as Chile prepares for its must win clash at Belo Horizonte.

Considered one of the most naturally gifted footballers that Chile has ever produced, Valdívia played under Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari at Palmeiras and knows many of his opponents’ games intimately from his six years at the São Paulo club.

“[Brazil] has a very strong team. In defense they are hard to open up — but they also have weaknesses which we need to exploit,” he told La Tercera. “The two central midfielders [Thiago Silva and David Luiz] are very potent, both in the air and in receiving crosses. And the wingbacks [Dani Alves and Marcelo] go on the attack a lot. But in doing so, the sometimes leave spaces open at the back…”

If any player knows how to conjure an opening it is Valdívia. Everytime “El Mago” touches the ball he looks to dissect defenses with through passes, delicate chips or dazzling displays of footwork and trickery.

And though Valdívia thrives on setting up others, he is also no stranger to scoring himself, as he displayed 14 minutes into this world cup campaign by curling the ball into the top left corner against Australia in what would prove the game’s decisive goal.

For the Palmeiras player that goal was a high point in a so far patchy tournament as he struggles to regain full fitness. After a brilliant beginning, he faded out of that game and was subbed on 68 minutes. Since then he has not started. Against Spain he was brought in on 85 minutes after the historic two goals were already scored, in the 2-0 loss to the Dutch he came on in the 70th minute.

His match fitness is improving, however, and as coach Jorge Sampaoli looks to add the X-factor to a side which dominated possession against the Netherlands, he may consider returning to the starting lineup which put three past Australia. Such a ploy would see a rested Arturo Vidal leading the midfield battle and Valdívia slotting in behind strikers Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sánchez as a false nine.

Whether he starts or not, Valdívia has now firmly established himself as a core member of Sampaoli’s attacking arsenal. But there was a time when indiscipline appeared to have prematurely ended the international career of a footballer who says he plays better the more he parties. In fact, there were two.

In-and-out of exile

The first came in 2007 when Valdívia was among a group of players accused of sexually abusing two waitresses in a hotel in the Venezuelan city of Puerto Ordaz as the team celebrated its semi-final appearance in the Copa América.

He was recalled 10 matches into his subsequent 20-match ban by Marcelo Bielsa, who had recently taken over the helms at “La Roja” and was beginning a path which return Chile to the World Cup, after missing in 2002 and 2006. None of the other players involved in that incident are in the current Chile squad.

His second exile came after an incident in November, 2011 known as “El Bautizazo.” Looking to stamp his authority on the team, new national coach Claudio Borghi reprimanded Valdívia, Vidal, Jean Beausejour, Gonzalo Jara and Carlos Carmona for turning up to training after what was described as a heavy drinking session at a baptism for one of Valdívia’s daughters.

A public feud erupted in which Valdívia accused the coach under whom he had won the Chilean championship with Colo Colo in 2006 of lying.

His subsequent 16-month exile was a typical roller coaster for the outspoken playmaker.

Soon after he led Palmeiras to victory in the Copa do Brasil, scoring a goal and getting a red card in the first match of the final and missing the return leg through suspension. In the same year the team was relegated from the Seríe A, but fought its way back into the top flight after a season in the second division.

It took another new coach for Valdívia to return to the national team, with Jorge Sampaoli extending the olive branch and “El Mago” making his return against Venezuela, the country where he was born and spent the first three years of his life.

Since then Valdíva has had to earn his way back into the team and struggled through fitness problems, most recently a recurring thigh strain.

The Palmeiras man is finally approaching full fitness and, as he said Tuesday, is a potent addition to any side even when he can’t hit full throttle.

“People are talking a lot [about my fitness],” Valdívia said. “But on the pitch there are other factors to consider. Quality, positional play, knowing how to take advantage of the moment, creating the space to make a pass.”

Brazil fans know that Valdívia has these “other qualities” in bucket loads and will be praying he doesn’t have a chance to demonstrate them come Saturday.

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