A few steps, often taken barefoot. Little Arturo would leave his home in Calle Aníbal with his sister to head to the "cancha", a small pocket of land that was the only real attraction in the El Huasco neighbourhood, in the municipality of San Joaquin, in the City of Santiago, Chile. He would then ask her to go in goal and start to take a few shots, looking to train up his right foot. These were moments of carefree happiness for Arturo, who soon earned the nickname "Cometierra" in his neighbourhood; he played football day and night and came home up to his hair in dirt. There is an inseparable bond between Vidal and El Huasco. A place where growing up isn’t easy, where money was always a problem, where his footballing career began on a muddy pitch, with its boundaries marked by the tyres of wheels cut in half. It was a place where young Arturo had to endure many difficult days.
There’s one name that keeps recurring when we look back at Arturo’s youth. Born on 22 May 1987 (a date which holds great significance in Nerazzurri history for a number of reasons), there is one name which keeps coming up throughout his youth: Rodelindo Román, the man that, with his litter collection company, gave work and food to many people in San Joaquin, including Arturo’s father and grandfather. He was an almost mythical figure, so much so that the team in El Huasco was renamed in his honour.
It was with that team, Club de Deportes Rodelindo Román, that Arturo Vidal’s footballing journey began. Football was the flame of inspiration, while his mother Jacquie acted as his undisputed guiding light throughout his life. Recently, in an interview about his footballing career, Vidal was asked: “Who was your idol when you were little?” His response: “My mother.” An idol, someone he could rely on. It was a difficult time for Arturo and his brothers: they would often come home to find that there was no meal on the table. Running around in the mud, and taking shots against the neighbours’ house, Arturo began to develop the armour of a warrior, promising: “I will become a footballer.”
Vidal tried out for Colo-Colo at the age of twelve, making the journey on his bicycle. However, the long ride ultimately proved fruitless, with Arturo returning to play for El Huasco, always playing well above his age group; at eleven, he was already playing with 15-year-olds. Three years later, after another try-out, he was finally accepted by Colo-Colo and showed plenty of discipline on the pitch. He started out as a defender, with bags of energy and a powerful right foot. His mother gave everything she could to allow her son to continue to cultivate his dream; she looked to sell things on the street and dedicated all her energy to him. When the phone rang in 2005, Arturo was playing draughts with his uncle; it was Dabrowski, Colo-Colo’s Coach, asking Arturo to join his first-team squad. He dashed off to get his things ready, even if his football boots were by no means new or cutting edge. With his first earnings, he took his mother to the shopping centre, a real luxury in a place of such hardship.
Arturo made a slow start, but his first two appearances coincided with the last two matchdays of the championship, when Colo-Colo sealed their position as Champion of Chile. A title that they would retain in the next two seasons. Vidal grew as a player under Coach Claudio Borghi. Alexis Sanchez was also on the books at the Club, meaning they are now reunited at Inter. Arturo’s transformation not only took place on the pitch, but also in his appearance. Moreover, he earned himself a new nickname. For some time, he was known as Celia Cruz, after the Cuban singer. One day, though, he turned up to the dressing room with a new, distinctive look, sporting a mohawk. From that day onwards, he became known as “Celia Punk”.
However, on the inside, he’s always been the same person. There was only one option if he wanted to be successful in life: football. It really was all or nothing, which is why his spirit on the pitch was always that of a “Guerrero”, a warrior: a name we’ve put in quotation marks for a reason, for it was the nickname his mother gave him.
Bayer Leverkusen scouted the young Chilean in 2007, and the Sporting Director of the German club was keen to snap him up. Rudi Völler, who had travelled out to Chile to watch Humberto Suazo, saw Vidal play and decided to bring him over to Europe. Thus began a new life began for Arturo, thousands of kilometres from El Huesco, but he always remained in touch with his roots, and to the pitch he had played on as a child: his home turf. A fighter on the pitch, the place where he felt most at home, carried through by his desire to win.
Things didn’t quite work out with Bayer Leverkusen, but his four years in the Bundesliga proved to be a formative experience for him; he finished his stint in Germany in style with 13 goals in his final season, becoming a true leader in the team. His subsequent spell at Juventus under Antonio Conte was a key period of his career; it was at Juve that he became the complete midfielder and a winner. He also began to get on the scoresheet more and more, scoring seven in his first season with the Bianconeri, 15 in the second, 18 in the third, and eight more in his final year at the Club.
His time at Juventus was followed by spells with Bayern Munich and Barcelona. He became a habitual champion, winning eight consecutive titles in three different leagues. And that wasn’t all; with Chile, he won two Copa America titles, two triumphs that filled his nation with joy. Thus, he has become one of the key figures in a National Team that is well and truly in touch with the people of Chile.
This is Arturo Vidal, now the President of Rodelindo Román, a team that he helped get back on its feet, not only investing in the club, but also supporting a number of projects in El Huasco. His heart beats for his home city, but it also beats for the beautiful game, whenever he’s on the pitch, and wherever the ball is rolling. The pitch is where Arturo puts on the mask of a warrior, thinking of his mother Jacquie, and when he was hungry, and when he came home with mud on his face.
From today, Vidal will be on the front line for the Nerazzurri, with the same objectives as ever: fighting, giving it his all, and winning. He will become the sixth Chilean to play for Inter. The first was Ivan Zamorano, another born fighter. He was followed by David Pizarro, Luis Jimenez, Gary Medel and Alexis Sanchez.
It’s confirmed. He’s arrived in Milan, and he’s a Nerazzurri player. Welcome to Inter, Arturo!