Monday 22 May 2017, 08:04

Marcelo Diaz: Bielsa changed the face of Chilean football

  • Celta Vigo's Marcelo Diaz is a key component of Chile’s midfield for the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup

  • La Roja will face Cameroon, Australia and Germany in the group phase

  • Diaz discusses the part Bielsa, Sampaoli and Pizzi have played in Chile’s recent success

Marcelo Diaz has had a busy season with his club, Celta Vigo. The side's runs to the Copa del Rey and UEFA Europa League semi-final have seen them shoulder a heavy workload of two games a week since January, with the Chilean's body enduring a testing period. Yet even though the domestic campaign is nearing an end, Diaz is not letting his thoughts turn to a well-earned holiday.

A mainstay of the Chile midfield over the last few years, Diaz does not want to miss La Roja’s upcoming engagement at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017. We spoke to the man they call El Chelo about the immediate challenges facing Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side.

“Germany are the toughest opponents in our group,” Diaz began by saying. “They’re the world champions and they’re playing well right now. Australia are very strong, as we saw for ourselves when we played them at Brazil 2014. We were fortunate enough to beat them, but it was a very tight game. And Cameroon, who are the African champions, will be a difficult proposition too.”

In then assessing his side’s chances of success in Russia next month, the 30-year-old midfielder focused on their many attributes.

“Chile’s big strength is that we always play as a team,” explained the Celta man. “It doesn’t matter who we’re up against; all we’re concerned about is giving everything we’ve got. The players in the Chile team all stick together. They’d die for each other. It’s a very close-knit team and very grounded. I think that’s why things have gone so well for us in the last few years.

“The spirit in the dressing room is great and we all share the same idea,” he added. “We all have very high standards when it comes to work. We’ve got some great players who are achieving big things with their clubs, like Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. Gary Medel and Charles Aranguiz are also doing really well. I could mention the whole team, in fact, because it’s a really good generation of players.”

Did you know?

  • Diaz made his Chile debut in a Brazil 2014 qualifier against Uruguay in November 2011.

  • He was an undisputed first-choice at the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas, where La Roja won their first two major trophies.

  • As well as being an admirer of Xavi Hernandez, his lifelong idol is Marcelo Salas.

  • When he wants to switch off from football, Diaz plays tennis.

Asked to assess the impact Chile’s recent coaches have had on the side’s development, Diaz was quick to pick out one, even though he never played under him.

“ Bielsa changed the face of Chilean football,” he explained. “His approach and style of play caught the eye, but more than anything he changed the mindset of the Chilean footballer. Before, Chilean players were a bit more… second-rate? If you came up against Spain, Brazil or Germany, you went out there thinking you were going to lose. But these days Chilean players will tell you before the game that they’re going to beat Spain, Brazil or Germany. We’re not scared of anyone now because we know that if we play as a team, then we can hurt anyone.

“Then along came Sampaoli. The structure was already in place and all he had to do was continue the process. That’s when the team was at its most expressive. And now, with Pizzi, the team’s taken on some of his unique characteristics. I think we’re doing pretty well too. We have to keep it up because things have been going pretty well for us.

“We’re not inferior to anyone now,” added Diaz with a sense of conviction. “We know that the only way to achieve success is by working hard and maintaining the belief that we can pull off something big.”